It had already been a troublesome match for Novak Djokovic who had taken a heavy fall earlier in the match and had seen the physio for some treatment on his shoulder. He had squandered four chances to break Pablo Carreno Busta, and had seen three set-points on break points come and go before being broken by the Spaniard who took a 6-5 lead and was going to serve for the set.
Djokovic hit the ball behind him in frustration, but its trajectory saw it strike a female lines-judge who fell to the floor and could be heard gasping for air, before removing her face-mask as she struggled to breathe.
Djokovic and other lines-judges went to her aid immediately, and she was later shown being able to walk off to the side of the court by herself.
The supervisor was called and could be seen discussing the issue at length with Djokovic, before he acknowledged his opponent and packed to leave the court.
Coming into this tournament Djokovic was unbeaten in 2020 and was the clear favourite to win the title and edge ever closer to catching Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer’s slam tallies.
Djokovic left the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre and will face a fine for skipping the press conference.
When all said and done, the officials had no option but to default, as the rules are quite clear:
“Players shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site. ‘In circumstances that are flagrant and particularly injurious to the success of a tournament, or are singularly egregious, a single violation of this section shall also constitute the major offence of “aggravated behaviour”. For the purposes of this rule, physical abuse is the unauthorised touching of an official, opponent, spectator or other person.”
Djokovic is not the first player to strike a ball in frustration and he will not be the last. Tim Henman found himself on the wrong side of history at Wimbledon hitting a ball girl on the ear, David Nalbandian kicking the boards around a line-judge’s chair and injuring him, and this was no different. Of course, he had no intention to harm. Neither did a 17-year-old Denis Shapovalov in a Davis Cup tie against Great Britain, when a similarly struck ball fractured the eye socket of the chair umpire Arnaud Gabbas.
What does stand out is that he left the premises and opted not to the press conference he was obliged to do. He is the World No. 1 and a three-time champion at this tournament, and from a PR perspective, this has not been a great year. It would have been a good gesture to step up and take responsibility or, as we have heard a lot of with the work to create the Professional Tennis Players’ Association – ‘accountability’ for his actions.
An immediate apology would have gone a long way in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
This one act of frustration has:
Snapped his unbeaten streak of 26 matches coming into this encounter
He will lose all his ranking points although the gap at the top is enough to ensure he remains at World No. 1
It has taken a global pandemic and a default to break the strangle-hold on the Slams as there are no Slam winners left in the draw, and it will be for one of the chasing pack to finally get their hands of a title – without the Big Three (four, or even five) left in the draw.
Update: Djokovic apologises
Around midnight UK time, Djokovic posted his apology for the incident on Instagram
Djokovic will now have more time to prepare for a far greater challenge, which will be to resurrect his chase for the most Slams of all time for a male player, but this time in Nadal’s wheelhouse.
With Roger Federer out of the picture, the scene will be set for a monumental showdown, should the rankings take us to a logical conclusion.
For what it is worth, given the stages the Big Three are at their careers, it seems inevitable that Djokovic will surpass both of them by the time he calls time on his career. It just made the chase a little more challenging.
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