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Novak Djokovic Out of U.S. Open After Accidental Hit of Line Judge


The strangest of all United States Opens got stranger still on Sunday as Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 men’s player and No. 1 seed, was disqualified from the tournament after inadvertently striking a lineswoman with a ball hit in frustration.

Djokovic was defaulted when trailing 5-6 in the first set in the fourth round against Pablo Carreño Busta. He had just lost his serve after being treated for pain in his left shoulder earlier in the game.

After losing the final point of the game, he pulled a ball from his pocket and smacked it with his racket toward the back of the court. It hit the lineswoman, who was standing, in the throat. She squealed and crumpled to the ground, and Djokovic rushed to her side to check on her condition.

She later walked off the court, still visibly in distress. But after a lengthy discussion with tournament referee Soeren Friemel at the net, Djokovic was defaulted.

“Players have been defaulted for less,” said Darren Cahill, the veteran coach who was sitting courtside in Arthur Ashe Stadium covering the match for ESPN. “I think the tournament made the right decision.”

The stunning turn of events guarantees that there will be a first-time Grand Slam men’s singles champion at the U.S. Open. Djokovic, who has won 17 major singles titles, was the only player left in the draw who had won a Grand Slam singles title.

Carreño Busta, the 20th seed from Spain, advanced to the quarterfinals with the default.

“There is a rule in place for it. I think the supervisors and all of them are just doing their job but very unlucky for Novak,” said Alexander Zverev, a German player who was watching inside Arthur Ashe Stadium. He added: “I mean if he would have hit it anywhere else, if it would have landed anywhere else, we’re talking about a few inches, he would have been fine.”

The Grand Slam rules prohibit players from the abuse of balls as well as unsportsmanlike conduct and tournament officials have the authority to disqualify a player immediately if they deem a case sufficiently serious.

Players can be defaulted for “hitting a ball or throwing a racket without intent to harm” if someone is injured on the court, said Gayle David Bradshaw, a retired ATP Tour vice president for rules and competition. “In this case, there was no intent, but there was harm, and the officials had no choice but to do what they did,” he said.

Djokovic, 33, has won five of the last seven Grand Slam singles titles and had dropped just one set in his first three matches at the U.S. Open. But the first set against Carreño Busta was a tight affair, and Djokovic was testy. At one stage earlier in the set, he smashed a ball in frustration toward the side of the court, hitting no one.

But when serving at 5-5, he fell hard on the second point while shifting direction and got up wincing and grabbing at his left shoulder. He received treatment in his chair, returned to the court trailing 0-30 and then lost the game, still looking uncomfortable with his two-handed backhand and resorting to a one-handed drop shot on two occasions.

Frustrated, he smacked another ball in frustration, extending his left arm in apology toward the lineswoman as soon as he saw she had been struck.

But Andreas Egli, a Grand Slam supervisor, and Friemel soon arrived on court to investigate the situation and discuss the implications.

“I know it’s tough for you whatever call you make,” Djokovic said to Friemel as they talked at the net.

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