Top-ranked Novak Djokovic’s bid for his 18th Grand Slam singles title came to an abrupt end Sunday afternoon. During the fourth round of the U.S. Open, Djokovic hit the ball in frustration and struck a lines judge in the throat, leading to an automatic disqualification.
Not only was Djokovic vying for his 18th Grand Slam victory, he was also undefeated this season with a 26-0 record heading into his match against Pablo Carreno Busta. After the Spaniard broke Djokovic’s serve, the world’s No. 1 player swatted the ball away from the court toward the back wall.
While the lineswoman appeared to have moved after Djokovic hit the ball, his frustration almost led to a serious injury. The ball struck the judge in the throat, who then dropped to her knees in pain. According to footage of the incident, Djokovic immediately ran to her aid and offered an apology. Judging from Djokovic’s response, there was clearly no intent to harm.
After the line judge was helped to her feet, she walked off the court unassisted, but still in pain. Djokovic pleaded his case with officials but was ultimately disqualified from the tournament. Although the incident was accidental, hitting an on-court official with the ball has traditionally resulted in a default.
In 2017, Canadian Denis Shapovalov was removed from a Davis Cup match after he accidentally hit the chair umpire with a ball. Tim Henman was also disqualified when he hit a ball girl in the head during a Wimbledon match in 1995.
Although Djokovic was upset with the official’s ruling, he completely understood their decision. Roughly 24 hours after the incident, he took to social media to offer a heartfelt apology for his actions and their unfortunate results.
“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 okay. I‘m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong,” he wrote on Instagram.
“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 apologize to the U.S. Open tournament and everyone associated for my behavior,” he added.
Despite his apology, the U.S. Open fined Djokovic a total of $267,500. Tournament officials fined him $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct and an additional $7,500 for failing to attend the mandatory post-match news conference. He also lost $250,000 in prize money for making it to the fourth round of the tournament.