In men’s tennis, the previous 13 Grand Slam trophies have been won by one of the Big Three of Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic. But now, after No.1 seeded Djokovic’s ouster from the US Open after hitting a line judge with a tennis ball, whoever emerges as champion will be the first-time major trophy winner in men’s tennis since 2014, when Marin Cilic won the US Open. 33-year-old Djokovic was the clear favourite after reigning US Open champion Nadal pulled out, citing concerns about travelling amid the pandemic, and Federer, sidelined after two knee operations, not in the field.
29-year-old Pablo Carreno Busta was locked in a tight battle with Djokovic in the fourth round of the tournament when the world number one was sensationally defaulted after swatting a ball to the back of the court, inadvertently striking a line judge following a point. Djokovic, who was trailing Busta 6-5 in the first set, 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. The chair umpire, after deliberations with line referee and tournament manager, announced that Djokovic was defaulted, despite the latter’s pleadings.
Djokovic later tweeted: “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. 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 @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior… Im so sorry.”
His former coach Boris Becker said: “I am as shocked as anybody. Novak and me go way back. This is probably the most difficult moment in his entire professional life. He did break the rule, the decision is correct. Thankfully there were no people, no spectators, but he has a habit sometimes of hitting the ball in the stands. Frustrations started boiling up. The ball was hit in the lineswoman’s throat, she fell backwards and she was looking for air. This wasn’t intention, he didn’t want to hit the line judge, but he did hit the ball and those are the rules. Tough one.”