Novak Djokovic has issued an apology after he was disqualified from the US Open for hitting an official with a ball.
The world No1 had blown a golden chance to win the first set of his match against Pablo Carreño Busta on Sunday when he hit a ball in frustration behind him. It struck a lineswoman in the throat, who fell to the ground in pain. Djokovic immediately rushed to help her but after a 10-minute discussion with tournament officials he defaulted the match and his chance to win his fourth US Open title.
Djokovic did not attend the post-match press conference but issued a statement on Instagram later on Sunday.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” he wrote. “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. So wrong. I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy.”
Tournament referee Soeren Friemel said he had “no other option” but to disqualify the Serb, “based on the fact that the ball was hit angrily, recklessly, that it went straight at the line umpire’s throat”, even though he believed the 33-year-old did not intend harm.
“There are two factors, one is the action and the result,” he said. “And the action – while there was no intent – the result of hitting a line umpire and [her] clearly being hurt is the essential factor in the decision-making process here.”
Djokovic has had issues with his temper in the past, notably at the ATP finals in 2016 when he struck a ball in anger that nearly hit a spectator. In Sunday’s statement, the 33-year-old said he would assess his behaviour going forward.
“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,” he wrote. “I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior. I’m very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me. Thank you and I’m so sorry.”
Busta, meanwhile, expressed sympathy for his opponent while endorsing the officials’ decision to default Djokovic. “The rules are the rules,” he said after the match. “The referee and the supervisor do the right thing, but is not easy to do it, no?”
Nick Kyrgios, who once was suspended from the tour for his on-court misbehaviour, started a Twitter poll, asking what his punishment would be had he committed the same offence.
“Swap me for jokers incident. ‘Accidentally hitting the ball kid in the throat’ how many years would I be banned for?” he asked. “5? 10? 20?”
The former British No 1 Tim Henman, who was disqualified from Wimbledon in 1995 after hitting a ball girl in similar circumstances, said on Amazon Prime: “He’s hit that ball aiming for the back fence … but you have to be responsible for your actions.”
Henman added that by evading the media on his way out, Djokovic had made the situation worse for himself.
“Unfortunately he’s compounding the error,” Henman said. “He needs to face up to it, apologise and accept he made a mistake. By, in essence, running away, it’s going to go on longer.”
Alexander Zverev, now one of the favourites to claim the men’s title, said the draw was “interesting” after the departure of Djokovic. “It’s very unlucky, very unfortunate,” he added. “The decision was made by the supervisors and, as I said, they’re just doing their job.”