Sunday, September 6, 2020

Djokovic defaulted for hitting line judge with ball

With Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer absent, Novak Djokovic
had been heavily favored to win his fourth U.S. Open title.
File photo by Paul Bauman
   As if the U.S. Open wasn't strange enough already, it became even more bizarre today.
   In a stunning development, top-ranked Novak Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round match in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., for accidentally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball.
   After losing his serve to trail 20th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 5-6 in the first set at Arthur Ashe Stadium, Djokovic flicked a ball underhand in anger toward the wall behind his baseline as he started to walk to his chair.
   The ball struck the line judge, who fell to the court. Djokovic immediately put his hand up in apology and walked to the woman, who gasped for air and moaned repeatedly while sitting on the court before walking off unassisted. She reportedly was OK. 
   After 10 or 15 minutes, during which officials conferred on the court and Djokovic pleaded his case in the virtually empty stadium, he was defaulted for ball abuse. The 33-year-old Serb shook hands with the 29-year-old Carreno Busta, a U.S. Open semifinalist in 2017, and left the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center without talking to the media.
   Fans are not permitted at the tournament because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
   "This whole situation has left me really sad and empty," Djokovic wrote on Instragram after his earliest exit from a Grand Slam tournament since a fourth-round loss in the 2018 Australian Open,. "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.
   "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 @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."
   The 2020 Official Grand Slam Rule Book defines ball abuse as "intentionally hitting a ball out of the enclosure of the court, hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences."
   "Players have been defaulted for less," said ESPN commentator Darren Cahill, who coaches reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep, reached a career-high No. 22 in 1989 and won one of his two ATP singles titles in San Francisco in 1991. "The tournament made the right decision. The ranking of a player cannot come into account. It's tough for the tournament and tough for Novak."
   Cahill's colleague and fellow Australian, former doubles world No. 1 Rennae Stubbs, declared, "This will be remembered by Djokovic and journalists for the rest of his career."
   Djokovic was on edge even before the incident. He furiously swatted a ball against a sign on the side of the court earlier in the set and hurt his left shoulder breaking a fall with his arm while serving at 5-5, 0-15.
   "He has many great qualities as a person, but he's not in control of (his emotions)," said ESPN commentator Patrick McEnroe, a former U.S. Davis Cup captain who reached career highs of No. 28 in singles and No. 3 in doubles. "He has (smacked balls in anger) many times in his career. When you do that, you're playing with fire, and he played with fire one time too many."
   Djokovic, who has earned $143.9 million in prize money, also will forfeit $250,000 for reaching the round of 16 and faces a fine of up to the same amount. He fell to 26-1 this year and 29-1 since November.
   Ironies abound surrounding Djokovic's default.
   Two years ago at Arthur Ashe Stadium, heavily favored Serena Williams was penalized a game for her third code violation in a 6-2, 6-4 loss to 20-year-old Naomi Osaka in a chaotic U.S. Open final
   In the 2009 U.S. Open semifinals, Williams was assessed a point penalty for threatening a line judge who had called a foot fault against her. The penalty came on match point, giving Kim Clijsters a 6-4, 7-5 victory.
   Ashe, an International Tennis Hall of Famer, was known for his composure and grace on and off the court. He died of AIDS at 49 in 1993 after receiving a tainted blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery.
   Twelfth-seeded Denis Shapovalov, a 21-year-old rising star from Canada, beat seventh-seeded David Goffin of Belgium 6-7 (0), 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 in tonight's first featured match at Arthur Ashe Stadium to reach his first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Shapovalov was defaulted from a Davis Cup match in 2017 after hitting chair umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye with a ball at age 17. Gabas had surgery for a broken eye socket.
   Pressure has been mounting on Djokovic for months. He came under fire in April after revealing that he opposes vaccinations and in June after several players, including himself, participated in a charity tournament in Serbia organized by Djokovic and subsequently tested positive for coronavirus. Fans packed the stands, and social distancing was not observed.
    Djokovic also resigned as president of the ATP Player Council last week and announced the formation of a new players association. 
    In the absence of defending champion Rafael Nadal (coronavirus concerns) and five-time winner Roger Federer (two arthroscopic knee surgeries this year), Djokovic had been heavily favored to win his fourth U.S. Open title. Djokovic has amassed 17 Grand Slam singles championships, third in history behind Federer (20) and Nadal (19).
   With Djokovic's departure, a new Grand Slam men's champion will be crowned next Sunday (1 p.m. PDT on ESPN) for the first time since Marin Cilic won the 2014 U.S. Open.
   Two remaining players, both in the bottom half of the draw, have played in major finals. Second-seeded Dominic Thiem of Austria lost to Nadal in the 2018 and 2019 French Open finals and to Djokovic in the Australian Open title match in January. His best result at Flushing Meadows is a quarterfinal appearance in 2018. Third-seeded Daniil Medvedev of Russia fell to Nadal in a five-set epic in last year's U.S. Open final.
   Cahill, McEnroe and colleague Brad Gilbert pick Medvedev to become the first man other than the Big Five of Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka to win a Slam since Cilic.
   Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina, who shocked Federer to claim the 2009 U.S. Open, is the only other player besides the Big Five to capture a major since 2005.
   This is also the first Grand Slam tournament since the 2004 French Open in which neither Federer, Nadal nor Djokovic has reached the quarterfinals.
   Much as Williams' histrionics overshadowed Osaka's breakthrough, Djokovic's default eclipsed two American women reaching the quarterfinals in the top half of the draw.
   Unseeded Shelby Rogers saved four match points in a 7-6 (5), 3-6, 7-6 (6) victory over sixth-seeded Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion. Rogers also advanced to the French Open quarterfinals in 2016 before having knee surgery in 2018.
   Rogers, 27, is scheduled to meet the fourth-seeded Osaka, a 6-3, 6-4 winner over 14th-seeded Anett Kontaveit of Estonia, on Tuesday. Osaka, 22, never faced a break point against Kontaveit and converted her sixth match point.
   Rogers has never lost a set in three career matches against Osaka, but their last meeting was in 2017 and two of the encounters were on clay.
   Jennifer Brady, seeded 28th, outslugged 17th-seeded Angelique Kerber, who won the second of her three Grand Slam singles crowns in the 2016 U.S. Open, 6-1, 6-4 to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal.
   Brady excelled in Northern California Challengers. She won the singles and doubles titles in Redding ($25,000) in 2014 at age 19 and reached the quarterfinals as the top seed in Sacramento ($60,000) in 2017, losing to defending champion Sofia Kenin.
   Brady, who won her first WTA title three weeks ago in Lexington, Ky., is set to face 23rd-seeded Yulia Putintseva, a Moscow native who plays for Kazakhstan. The 5-foot-4 (1.63-meter) Putintseva, a  two-time French Open quarterfinalist, topped eighth-seeded Petra Martic of Croatia 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
   The 5-foot-10 (1.78-meter) Brady, 25, has never won a set in two career matches against Putintseva, both in 2018 and one on clay in the French Open.
   "This is a different Jennifer Brady than two years ago," Stubbs asserted. "She absolutely can win this tournament if she truly believes in herself."

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