It’s been a bonkers year for just about everyone, in every sense of the word. Tennis is no different, and Novak Djokovic is no different. From his medical views derived from Mars to dismissing the risks of COVID-19 and then catching it, as well as carrying an undefeated record this year, there would be more than enough to categorize this as the strangest season for him, and just about any other player in recent memory.
He topped all of that wholeheartedly this afternoon.
Djokovic was defaulted from his round of 16 match for hitting a linesperson with a ball he had swatted away in anger after being broken late in the first set. Here’s the video:
The linesperson here was hit in the throat and she was taken out of the rotation for medical attention.
What’s clear is that Djokovic didn’t mean to hit her, nor was he aiming for her, but that’s hardly the point. When you whack a ball wildly in anger you’re taking that chance, and sometimes that’s going to have serious consequences.
Djokovic was already on tilt, having taken an injury timeout after falling on his shoulder that had recently been injured. He had just slammed a ball into the sidewall after losing the previous point.
There is precedent for this. Tim Henman was bounced from Wimbledon one year in doubles for hitting a ball girl with an errant ball he whacked. Denis Shapavalov was defaulted from a Davis Cup match for hitting the chair umpire with a ball he angrily hit away.
The rule states that any ball hit while not in play, which then hits someone else, is an automatic default.
The effects here are massive. For one, for the first time since 2016, someone not named Djokovic, Federer, or Nadal will win a major on the men’s side. Stan Wawrinka was the last to do it. Second, Djokovic’s quest for an undefeated season goes by the wayside. Third, his chase of Roger Federer’s grand-slam record goes on longer, with the next one being the French Open in a couple of weeks, which is Rafael Nadal’s plaything, and he’s lying in wait for it, having skipped the US Open to train for Roland Garros.
Fourth, it means that some man will win his first grand slam, as no one left in the draw has won one before. Tennis has been screaming for one of the vaunted young starts to break through the triopoly of Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic. All it took for that to finally happen was one to get hurt, one to skip the tournament due to COVID-19, and for the other to get thrown out of the tournament.