The US Open has spent a lot time in the headlines for the wrong reasons, due to competitors being barred after coming into contact with a coronavirus-infected player, storms over the weather and, of course, the absence of so many big names, who did not want to take the risk of travelling to New York amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
All of that was pushed to one side as another fresh and unwanted controversy enveloped Flushing Meadows concerning the maligned world No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
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The Serb has courted his own scandals already this year through his ill-fated and coronavirus-tainted Adria Tour event, and last week announced he is leading a breakaway group of top men’s tennis players, threatening the ATP’s reign over the game.
Then, on Sunday night, Djokovic’s unbeaten 2020 came to a shuddering halt as he was disqualified from the US Open during his match against Spain’s unseeded Pablo Carreno Busta inside Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Djokovic defaulted his match after accidentally striking a female line judge with a ball in frustration after losing his serve. He appeared to be looking the other way when he pulled the ball from his pocket and inadvertently smacked it in the direction of the official, hitting her in the throat.
After a long discussion with the Serb, the tournament officials broke the bad news and Djokovic walked over, shook Carreno Busta’s hand and marched off court.
The shock waves of such a decision were felt throughout the tennis world and beyond, with a clear split in opinion if the right decision was made.
Was justice served?
In the defence of the Serb, this was no violent act. He simply seemed to be firing the spare ball to the back of the court as his service game was now over. It went on a looping arc — hardly a missile-like trajectory — and the line judge must have been taking diving lessons from Neymar, as she went down like she had been taken out by a sniper behind a grassy knoll. Whatever her agenda, that is for another day.
The case for the prosecution clearly points to those pesky rules- not to mention the flak the ATP and US Open would be facing had they bent the regulations for the world No. 1. The fact that such a lengthy discussion took place was questioned, with the BBC asking if any other player would have been given so much time to plead his ultimately futile case.
Did he hit the ball recklessly? Yes. Was there disregard? Hmmmm. He was rushing to the judge’s aid and offering genuine apologies before the ball had stopped rolling. It really was a series of unfortunate events, and maybe he momentarily lapsed and allowed the frustration to get the better of him. This was no Nick Kyrgios lobbing chairs across the court, or David Nalbandian drawing the blood of a judge by kicking an advertising board into his shin. But the damage for Djokovic was done the second he swung his racket and he had to go.
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It will financially damaging as Djokovic will have to forfeit all his winnings in the tournament and may be facing a further fine. I’m sure his deep pockets will cope, but his tarnished image has been damaged yet again, too.
Djokovic himself seemed to admit a moment of madness and appears to have accepted his fate, by promising to keep his temper in check. “This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” he wrote 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. I apologise to the US Open tournament and everyone associated for my behaviour.”