It wasn’t another player who ended Novak Djokovic’s perfect season in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Sunday. It was his own imperfect behavior – an angry smack of a tennis ball that inadvertently hit the throat of a linesperson and defaulted the world’s No. 1 player from the first Grand Slam tournament in eight months.
The almost unfathomable sequence of events played out in virtual silence in the emptiness of Arthur Ashe Stadium, the world’s largest tennis venue, but nonetheless rocked the tennis world, and ensured that Djokovic, a 33-year-old Serb, would not come away with his 18th Grand Slam title.
Djokovic trails only Roger Federer (20) and Rafael Nadal (19) on the career men’s major title list, and was heavily favored to edge closer before he was sent off. His opponent, Pablo Carreno Busta, a 27th-ranked Spaniard, advances to the quarterfinals.
Djokovic did not speak to the press, or immediately issue a statement. Cameras caught his exit, as he and his entourage got into a car and bolted the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
HOLY CRAP. Djokovic defaulted after he inadvertently hits a ball and strikes a line judge in the neck. She had to leave. pic.twitter.com/BECdydrKFw
— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) September 6, 2020
A few hours later, he apologized on Instagram, saying in part: “This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. … I‘m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong. I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy. 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 apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior.”
Djokovic had the set seemingly in hand when he went up 5-4, 0-40, with triple set point on Carreno Busta’s serve when it all unraveled. The Spaniard saved all three set points, the last of them coming on a deft drop shot to make it deuce, prompting Djokovic to angrily drill a ball into the side court.
Commenting on ESPN, former player James Blake said, “You’ve got to be confident to hit that. If he’d hit it a little higher he would’ve hit a cameraman.”
Djokovic, surprisingly, did not receive a warning from chair umpire Aurelie Tourte.
With Djokovic serving the next game at 5-5, he fell and appeared to jam his shoulder. He called for a trainer, and after about a five-minute delay, the match resumed. Moments later, Carreno Busta got the break with a forehand winner, giving him a 6-5 lead and a chance to serve for the set.
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SOURCE: USA Today, Wayne Coffey