By Liya Davidov and Mathias Altman-Kurosaki
Features Editor and Sports Editor
In a stunning turn of events in the U.S. Open, top-seeded Novak Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round match after he unintentionally hit a line judge with a tennis ball.
After losing his serve to be down 5-6 in the first set against Pablo Carreño Busta, the overwhelming favorite in the men’s draw smacked a ball toward the back of the court as he walked toward his bench. The ball hit the line judge’s throat and she immediately dropped to the ground reaching for her neck.
As Djokovic and a medical team raced to her side, the chair umpire Aurelie Tourte, tournament referee Soeren Friemel and Grand Slam supervisor Andreas Egli discussed the repercussions. This discussion lasted about ten minutes as Djokovic appeared to be pleading his case.
“Novak was angry,” Friemel said in an interview with ESPN. “He hit the ball recklessly, angrily back. And taking everything into consideration, there was no discretion involved.”
When the discussion dispersed, Djokovic shook Carreño Busta’s hand and left the U.S. Open grounds immediately, refusing to speak to the media.
“I checked on the linesperson and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling ok. I‘m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress,” Djokovic posted on Instagram. “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.”
This was the first time in his career that Djokovic had been defaulted from a match. He was later fined $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“When I was watching the match and saw it happen, at first I thought that it was super unlucky and that it was accidental because he didn’t even look at the ball when hitting her,” said Akul Telluri, a sophomore public health major who plays for the College’s tennis team.
Telluri thinks the penalties handed down to Djokovic were too extreme given that he had no past disciplinary history.
However, Christian Guevara, a former hitting partner of Djokovic and assistant tennis coach at the College, felt the exact opposite.
“That’s the rule. It’s the same thing that happened when Tim Henman did it, when (David) Nalbandian kicked the wood onto the umpire, and when (Denis) Shapovalov hit the chair umpire,” Guevara said. “I’m also surprised that the fine was that low, too.”
Charlotte Roarty, a sophomore civil engineering major that is also on the College’s tennis team, agreed with Guevara that Djokovic’s recklessness is what cost him. While Roarty acknowledges that Djokovic “wasn’t smart” to hit towards the back of the court where there were ball boys and linemen, she feels worse for the umpire, as it was “a difficult call to make.”
“Defaulting a player at a Grand Slam is a very important, very tough decision,” Friemel said. “And for that reason, it doesn't matter if it's on Ashe, if it's No. 1 or any other player on any other court. You need to get it right.''