Tennis star Novak Djokovic has apologised after he accidentally hit a line judge with a ball – causing him to be disqualified from the US Open.
The world number one and top seed had been bidding for his 18th Grand Slam win but his title hopes were dashed after he was defaulted from the fourth-round match against Pablo Carreno Busta.
Djokovic smacked a ball behind him in annoyance as he walked to the sideline after losing a game in the first set.
The ball hit a female line judge, who dropped to her knees at the back of the court and reached for her neck.
There were several minutes of discussion with officials on court – with Djokovic arguing his case – before it was announced he was out of the competition.
After the decision was made, the Serbian player collected his rackets and walked off court.
The star did not attend the post-match press conference, but in a post on his Instagram following the incident he said he was “so sorry”.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” he said.
“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.”
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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 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. Cela ova situacija me čini zaista tužnim i praznim. Proverio sam kako se oseća linijski sudija, i prema informacijama koje sam dobio, oseća se dobro, hvala Bogu. Njeno ime ne mogu da otkrijem zbog očuvanja njene privatnosti. Jako mi je žao što sam joj naneo takav stres. Nije bilo namerno. Bilo je pogrešno. Želim da ovo neprijatno iskustvo, diskvalifikaciju sa turnira, pretvorim u važnu životnu lekciju, kako bih nastavio da rastem i razvijam se kao čovek, ali i teniser. Izvinjavam se organizatorima US Opena. Veoma sam zahvalan svom timu i porodici što mi pružaju snažnu podršku, kao i mojim navijačima jer su uvek uz mene. Hvala vam i žao mi je. Bio je ovo težak dan za sve.
A post shared by Novak Djokovic (@djokernole) on
The player said he would turn the incident into a “lesson” for his “growth and evolution as a player and human being”.
“I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior,” he said.
It appeared Djokovic had not meant to hit the line judge and he quickly rushed over to check on her, but players have been disqualified in the past over similar incidents.
The tournament’s organisers have said Djokovic hit the ball “dangerously or recklessly” with “negligent disregard of the consequences”.
In a statement, US Open officials said he will lose all ranking points earned and will also be fined the prize money he has won.
Djokovic will face another fine for not doing the press conference, after he was seen getting into a car and leaving the site.
He was the overwhelming favourite to win the title, having not lost a match all season.
His shock departure means there is no man remaining in the tournament who has previously won a Grand Slam singles title.
Second seed Dominic Thiem, who has reached Grand Slam finals three times without a win, is now the highest-ranked player remaining.
Tim Henman, who was disqualified from Wimbledon 25 years ago for accidentally hitting a ball girl with a ball during a doubles match, said there was “no doubt that it’s the right decision”.
Speaking on Amazon Prime, he said: “It’s amazing for me to talk about this because it happened to me at Wimbledon in 1995. It was that moment of frustration, hit the ball away when I wasn’t looking and I hit a ball girl in the ear.”
Djokovic has already courted controversy this year, after he revealed he was an anti-vaxxer and organised a controversial tennis tournament where players were seen not social distancing and dancing in nightclubs.
The world number one and several other players who took part in the tournament later tested positive for coronavirus.