September 6, 2020
Novak Djokovic has been defaulted for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball at the US Open.
It means a brand new Grand Slam champion is guaranteed at Flushing Meadows this year.
Whilst the controversy creates a fascinating moment in men’s tennis, there is only a sense of trauma for Djokovic and above all his poor, unintended victim.
Novak was clearly shocked at what he had done and went straight to the line judge to apologise and comfort her.
But it was too late to take back his error, or indeed the damage it had done. The favourite’s tournament was effectively already over.
At first, observers struggled to understand precisely what had happened. Then the sequence of events became clearer.
The Serb had just fallen 5-6 behind in his match against Pablo Carreno Busta, his serve broken.
He took a ball out of his pocket and swiped it disdainfully behind him.
Unfortunately the ball flew at some speed and appeared to hit a line judge in the throat.
She cried out, fell on to all fours and gasped in obvious distress.
There is no suggestion here of any malicious intent from Novak Djokovic.
But in the eyes of the relevant tennis authorities, that wasn’t the point.
The consequences of this expression of frustration counted against Djokovic. His action was seen as dangerous and negligent.
The tournament referee was called and explained to the world number one that he had no option but to default Djokovic.
Novak could be seen arguing gently with the referee that it had all been a bizarre accident and the line judge was not badly hurt.
His mild protestations were all to no avail and Djokovic was given his marching orders.
He left Flushing Meadows without public comment, but later issued a social media statement saying he was sorry.
Novak also said he was feeling ‘sad and empty,’ but would use the experience to grow as a person and player.
British legend Tim Henman agreed with the decision to default Djokovic.
Speaking on Amazon Prime, Henmaun said: ‘It is shocking but it is the correct decision.
‘It happened to me at Wimbledon.
‘It was a very distressing moment. I was playing doubles with Jeremy Bates and we were 2-1 up in sets when I accidentally hit a ball-girl.
‘Alan Mills was the referee and I was 19 at the time. There was no option. It was a default.
‘I was disqualified from Wimbledon, the biggest and best tournament in the world. Not much fun.’
In New York, Djokovic had already been in distress minutes earlier, when he appeared to injure his shoulder.
He sought medical attention and we wondered whether he could continue.
That incident soon paled into insignificance – not least because Djokovic quickly got over his injury.
But he couldn’t brush aside what happened moments later.
Now the US Open will celebrate a new champion next weekend.
It is the first time for sixteen years that a Grand Slam’s semi-finals will take place without one of the three biggest names.
No Djokovic, no Roger Federer and no Rafael Nadal in the last four.
We can’t see that happening at Wimbledon 2021.
All the biggest names should feature at the most anticipated tournament of them all.
Most will probably go deep into week two, judging by previous form.
In fact we’d be amazed if one of the big three didn’t make the Wimbledon final.
At the US Open, however, there is now a unique opportunity for the likes of Dominic Thiem and Daniil Medvedev.
It’ll be intriguing to see how this eventful Slam finally ends.