NEW YORK — Novak Djokovic was kicked out of the U.S. Open for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a tennis ball after dropping a game in his fourth-round match Sunday, a stunning end to his 29-match winning streak and bid for an 18th Grand Slam title.
As he walked to the Arthur Ashe Stadium sideline for a changeover, trailing Pablo Carreño Busta 6-5 in the first set, Djokovic — who was seeded and ranked No. 1 and an overwhelming favorite for the championship — angrily smacked a ball behind him. The ball flew right at the line judge, who dropped to her knees at the back of the court and reached for her neck.
During a discussion of about 10 minutes near the net involving tournament referee Soeren Friemel, Grand Slam supervisor Andreas Egli and chair umpire Aurelie Tourte, Djokovic pleaded his case.
“His point was that he didn’t hit the line umpire intentionally. He said, ‘Yes, I was angry. I hit the ball. I hit the line umpire. The facts are very clear. But it wasn’t my intent. I didn’t do it on purpose.’ So he said he shouldn’t be defaulted for it,” said Friemel, who made the decision to end the match. “And we all agree that he didn’t do it on purpose, but the facts are still that he hit the line umpire and the line umpire was clearly hurt.”
Friemel didn’t see what happened, and said he was not allowed to check a video replay, but was given a rundown by Egli and Tourte. Friemel said that even if Djokovic didn’t intend to hurt the line judge, she was hurt, and that was enough to merit the ruling.
Eventually, Djokovic walked over to shake hands with Carreño Busta. Tourte then announced that Djokovic was defaulted, the tennis equivalent of an ejection.
“I was a little bit in shock, no?” Carreño Busta said later at a news conference done via video conference because of social-distancing rules at the U.S. Open, the first Grand Slam tournament staged amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Djokovic quickly left the tournament grounds without speaking to reporters, posting an apology on social media hours later.
“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,” Djokovic 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,” he wrote. “I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior.”