Title favourite Novak Djokovic was sensationally defaulted from the US Open after hitting a line judge with a ball.
The top seed and 17-time grand slam champion had just dropped serve to trail Spanish opponent Pablo Carreno Busta 6-5 in the opening set of their fourth-round match on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
USTA statement on default of Novak Djokovic: pic.twitter.com/dqlt0mokg9— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 6, 2020
He hit a ball behind him in annoyance that hit a female line judge. A lengthy discussion followed between tournament officials and Djokovic as the Serbian argued his case to no avail.
There was no question Djokovic did not intend to hit the line judge, and the ball was not hit particularly hard, but it was clear immediately that the woman was hurt, with the Serbian rushing over to check on her condition.
He pleaded his case at length before accepting his fate, collecting his rackets and walking off the court.
"This whole situation has left me really sad and empty," the Serb said on Instagram.
"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 decision will send shockwaves through the sport. Djokovic won his 17th slam singles title in Australia and was an overwhelming favourite to make it 18 in New York having not lost a match all season.
Djokovic is not the first player to have been defaulted for something similar, but for it to happen at a grand slam and as the tournament favourite is an extraordinary situation.
Canadian Denis Shapovalov was defaulted during a Davis Cup tie against Great Britain in 2017 after smashing a ball in anger that hit umpire Arnaud Gabas in the eye.
Tim Henman, meanwhile, was disqualified from Wimbledon 25 years ago for hitting a ball girl with a ball during a doubles match, while David Nalbandian kicked an advertising hoarding during the Queen's final in 2012, injuring a line judge, and was defaulted.
Speaking on Amazon Prime, Henman said: "It’s a massive shock. There’s no doubt that it’s the right decision. 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."
Henman added: "I remember going back to the locker room in a state of shock and then going into the press conference.
"It was probably one of the busiest press conferences I’ve ever been into and the first question was: 'How do you feel, the first person in 120 years to be disqualified at Wimbledon’. I was shocked, I was embarrassed and I was very disappointed."
A consequence of Djokovic’s disqualification is that, for the first time since Marin Cilic won the US Open title in 2014, there will be a new men’s grand slam champion.
Second seed Dominic Thiem, a three-time losing slam finalist, is now the highest-ranked player remaining.
Fifth seed Alexander Zverev, who eased into the last eight with a 6-2 6-2 6-1 victory over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, said he was in shock.
The German said: "He hit a tennis ball. It’s very unfortunate that he hit the line judge, and especially where it hit her. There is a rule in place for it. I think the supervisors and all of them are just doing their job. But very unlucky for Novak.
"I don’t know what to say. I’m a little bit in shock right now."
A statement from tournament organisers read: "In accordance with the Grand Slam rulebook, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court, or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences, the US Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open.
"Because he was defaulted, Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and will be fined the prize money won at the tournament in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident."
Djokovic will face another fine for not doing a press conference. Soon after the incident, the 33-year-old was pictured getting into a car and leaving the site.