Novak Djokovic’s US Open campaign came to an abrupt end when he was disqualified from the Grand Slam after hitting a line judge during his fourth round match. The world number one had been the overwhelming favourite to lift the US Open trophy, having not lost a singles match all season.
The title would have secured Djokovic his 18th grand slam title and narrowed the gap between him and his rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who were not competing in New York, in the race to finish with most men’s singles titles of all time.
Alongside his disqualification, the Serb will have to forfeit both the $250,000 of prize money and any ranking points that he earned from reaching the fourth round.
The incident occurred after Djokovic was broken by Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta to trail 6-5 in the first set. In frustration he took a ball from his pocket and, hitting it behind him with no great strength, it struck the line judge in the neck.
The number one seed had also flashed his temper two games prior when he fired a ball at an advertising board, after failing to convert three set points.
Djokovic’s disqualification has sparked debates over social media. Former Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanisevic labelled the default as an injustice, insisting that he should have been issued with a game penalty rather than thrown out of the draw altogether.
However, under the current rules, US Open officials were left with no choice but to issue the default. Whilst Djokovic did not strike the line-judge intentionally, the code of conduct states that “players shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site”.
Both Martina Navratilova and Billie Jean King tweeted in favour of the decision made in New York, claiming that whilst the incident was unfortunate, the rules are the rules and they must also apply to the world number one.
In fact, it is likely that a reprieve for Djokovic would have generated more negative publicity and left an air of preferential treatment for the most influential and wealthy in the sport.
This incident is certainly a blow to the Serb’s status in tennis, made worse by the fact that Djokovic was seen shortly after his disqualification leaving the tournament grounds without taking part in the mandatory press conference. His apology, which would have been better in person, was delivered later via Instagram.
This is not the first time that Djokovic has been involved in incidences of a similar nature. In the 2016 Roland Garros quarter-final, his racquet was close to making contact with a line judge after it slipped out of his hand, and at the ATP World Finals the same year, he fired a ball into the crowd.
He then took offence to questions from the British media about his behaviour, joking that it was just as likely to snow inside the O2 arena as it was that a spectator would be injured.
Djokovic has already returned to Europe and is in preparation for the French Open which begins on 27th September. Whilst the Serbian will without a doubt win again, the events which unfolded in New York have given him cause to reflect on his behaviour on court.
Image: mirsasha via Creative Commons