Novak Djokovic has defaulted out of the 2020 US Open.
A reckless action that injured a line judge forced tournament referee Soeren Friemel to ask the top seed and title favourite to exit the tournament, just one set into his fourth round match.
However, unlike previous instances involving referees at the Flushing Meadows, there is very little that can be said in favour of Djokovic who was aware of the law he broke in the Grand Slam Rule Book, as this was not his first run-in with it.
The fourth round exit ends Djokovic’s unbeaten run of 2020 and also ensures that, for the first time in years, there will be a men’s Grand Slam champion outside the ‘Big Four’.
But, what happened on Sunday night at the Arthur Ashe Stadium? What’s a ‘default’ that cost Djokovic possibly his 18th Major title?
Here are some details:
What Happened on Court?
Facing Spain’s world number 27, Carreno Busta, Djokovic dropped his serve in the 11th game of the first set to let his opponent go up 6-5.
As he walked back towards his bench on the sideline, he took out the remaining service ball from his pocket and whacked it towards the back side of the court, with his racket.
Only, a line judge was positioned there and the ball struck her on the throat as she buckled and fell to the ground. Djokovic immediately realised his error and ran to check on her.
But the damage was done.
Oh my god, Djokovic got disqualified from the US Open.pic.twitter.com/yCo3Lqw0tg— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) September 6, 2020
In the 2020 Grand Slam Rule Book under ‘Article III: Player On-Site Offences’, there is a clause, ‘abuse of balls’, that categorically states that ‘abuse of balls is defined as intentionally hitting a ball out of the enclosure of the court, hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences.’
While Djokovic apologised to the injured line judge, the next 10 minutes on court saw him have a long discussion with tournament referee Soeren Friemel, chair umpire Aurelie Tourte and Grand Slam supervisor Andreas Egli. He knew the penalty for his act was an early exit for the tournament but he looked to be pleading his case, to no avail.
The match was awarded to Carreno Busta and the USTA cited the above-mentioned clause while making their formal statement.
USTA statement on default of Novak Djokovic: pic.twitter.com/dqlt0mokg9— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2020
What Rule Did He Break?
Daily Mail reported that, while speaking to the tournament referee in the middle of the court, Djokovic was heard saying: "She doesn't have to go to the hospital for this. You're going to choose a default in this situation? My career, grand slam, centre stage?"
The USTA’s statement too said ‘the US Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open’.
According to the Grand Slam Rule Book and under the header ‘Defaults’, ‘the Referee in consultation with the Grand Slam Chief of Supervisors may declare a default for either a single violation or pursuant to the Point Penalty Schedule’.
In Djokovic’s case, it was a single violation and the law was triggered by the chair umpire, Aurelie Tourte, who then called the tournament referee and the chief Grand Slam supervisor and the three came to the collective decision to default Djokovic.
The rule book also says, ‘In all cases of default, the decision of the Referee in consultation with the Grand Slam Chief of Supervisors shall be final and unappealable.’
Are There Any Other Consequences?
According to the Grand Slam Rule Book, ‘any player who is defaulted shall lose all ranking points earned for that event and may be fined up to the prize money won at the tournament in addition to any or all other fines levied with respect to the offending incident.’
Djokovic had earned $163,000 by reaching the second week of the US Open and will also concede the points he had won along with it.
However, what will be the biggest hit for him is that this was his best-possible shot at an 18th Grand Slam title, with Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer not playing the tournament and Andy Murray, returning from a long injury lay-off, getting eliminated in the first week.
How Has Djokovic Reacted?
Following a seven-minute discussion on the court with the officials, Djokovic accepted the decision and walked off, after shaking Busta’s hand. He was soon on his way back to Serbia and refused to attend the mandatory post-match press-conference.
However, he posted a message on Instagram.
"This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the lines person 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. I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy,” he wrote.
"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 behavior. 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,” he added.
Have There Been Previous Instances?
Yes, even those involving Djokovic specifically. There have been instances of the world number one letting his temper get the better of him, on court. Only, those times, no one got injured and he escaped punishment.
Like at the 2016 French Open when, during the quarter-final match against Tomas Berdych, Djokovic angrily swiped his racquet which slipped out of his grip and just missed a line judge.
Or at the 2016 ATP Finals, when he angrily hit a ball into the stands. After the match, a reporter in the press conference asked him if he thought such an act may one day cost him dearly. Djokovic’s reply: "You guys are unbelievable. You're always picking these kind of things. It's not an issue for me."
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