Novak Djokovic’s US Open campaign ended prematurely when he was defaulted for inadvertently striking a line judge in the throat with a ball.
Though he pleaded his case with the on-court officials for several minutes, a frustrated Djokovic was eventually told that although accidental, his offence was worthy of being disqualified from the match and the tournament.
But was it the right decision?
According to the letter of the law and the fine print in the grand slam rulebook, it was.
In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) released a short statement clarifying the rule and the umpires’ decision.
“In accordance with the grand slam rulebook, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences, the US Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open,” the statement read.
“Because he was defaulted, Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and will be fined the prize money won at the tournament in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident.”
The USTA’s wording makes clear that Djokovic’s intent did not factor into the decision, just the fact that his actions were “dangerous or reckless” and were made “with negligent disregard for the consequences”.
What is the actual rule?
Djokovic’s misdemeanour falls under the guise of “abuse of balls” in the official grand slam rule book.
That rule states that “players shall not violently, dangerously or with anger hit, kick or throw a tennis ball within the precincts of the tournament site except in the reasonable pursuit of a point during a match”, and also includes the section quoted by the USTA above.
As far as punishment goes, the officials are then referred to the “point penalty schedule”, which says that players should receive a warning for the first offence, a point penalty for the second and a game penalty for the third and any subsequent offences.
But in worthy cases, officials can decide to circumvent that schedule and declare a default, which disqualifies the player immediately, sees them lose all ranking points from the tournament and receive a hefty fine.
Has something like this happened before?
Indeed it has. In 2017, a then 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov struck a chair umpire in the eye with an errant and enraged swing.
Shapovalov too was immediately defaulted while the umpire was taken to hospital for evaluation on his eye.
Back in 2012, Argentinian David Nalbandian was defaulted from the Queen’s Club final in London for angrily kicking an advertising board into a line judge’s leg. The umpire suffered a gash on his leg.
Nalbandian was disqualified from that match for “unsportsmanlike behaviour”, and an assault investigation was opened by Metropolitan Police.
What has Djokovic said about the whole thing?
After initially leaving without speaking to any media, Djokovic put a statement out on his social media channels in which he apologised to the line judge and expressed his remorse.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” Djokovic said.
“I checked on the linesperson and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling ok. I’m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong.
“As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being.
“I apologise to the US Open tournament and everyone associated for my behaviour. I’m very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me. Thank you and I’m so sorry.”