Novak Djokovic Ejected from the U.S. Open

by Annie Stockwell

Tennis fans watch in shock as the no.1 player defaults

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Djokovic shared the feeling of shock with the viewers after he was defaulted.

Novak Djokovic’s short temper cost him an early exit in the U.S. Open. Soeren Friemel, the referee, ejected the 33-year-old player from the Grand Slam for unsportsmanlike conduct. This ejection surprised many tennis fans. Coming into the match, he ranked as the number one tennis player in the world with 11260 points. He was also the only player competing to have ever won a Grand Slam and the only member of the ‘Big Three’ (Djokovic, Roger Federer, and Rafael Nadal) to be playing in the tournament. It was obvious from his experience and skill level that he was above his opponents. While it was an unspoken guarantee that he was going to win his 18th Grand Slam title, he left the tournament empty-handed.

On September 6, Djokovic faced Carreno Busta of Spain, the 20th ranked player in the world. It was Djokovic’s fourth match, and he lost his first set 6-5. In anger, he pulled a tennis ball from his pocket and struck it with his racket. The ball launched to the back of the court, unintentionally hitting a female line judge approximately 40 feet away. After realizing his actions, Djokovic ran over to see if the line judge was ok. In the playback footage, Djokovic’s countenance shows that he meant no harm to her. While the line judge may have been alright, Djokovic’s lapse of judgment had already determined his fate. According to the Grand Slam rulebook, Djokovic violated Article III, which states that players can not hit a ball dangerously within the court.

While Djokovic’s actions were clearly incidental, the judges needed to abide by the Grand Slam rulebook. Although Djokovic did not intend harm, striking the ball (no matter the intention) is ball abuse. Since 1963, there have only been five defaults issued, and rarely is there a single act default. There are three code violations given in a match before a player defaults. A default is skipping those three violations, which automatically disqualifies a player from a match. As Djokovic negotiated with the judges, he brought up a question that viewers had as well: Why could he not just receive a point or game penalty, instead of being defaulted? It seems over the top to default a tennis player from a match for harm that was not done purposely.

Djokovic also brought up a valid point to the judges, discussing the state of the line judge. He argues that she was not injured in any serious way, and did not need to be hospitalized. The judges should have reviewed the video of Djokovic striking the ball to determine his default. His emotions shown in the video would have given them more reason to not eject him from the tournament.

The rules of being defaulted from a match go through three steps; a point penalty, a game penalty, and then a default. Because Djokovic did not receive a warning prior to the incident, referee Friemel had only two options: warn him by deducting a point or default him. Friemel did not find it appropriate to let Djokovic off with only a point penalty, so he decided to default him.

There is a difference between the rules of the Grand Slam rulebook, in comparison to various other sports’ rules. For example, if a player in a soccer game kicks the ball at a referee on accident, it results in a dropped ball. Djokovic hit the line judge on accident, which resulted in him being defaulted. If the referee decides that a soccer player deliberately hit them with the ball with the intent of harm, then the player will be given a red card. In soccer, there are two different rules depending on the intent of the player hitting the referee. In tennis, the same rule applies whether it is on purpose or an accident. Because Djokovic hit the line judge on accident and was defaulted, there should be a separate rule.

Social media, particularly Twitter, has opinions on the situation. While tennis stars shared their sympathy for Djokovic, the majority still agreed that the outcome was deserved. Billie Jean King, an American tennis player, expressed in her tweet that while the incident was unfortunate, the rules apply to all players. Nicolas Kiefer, a German tennis player, agreed with King, tweeting that “RULES ARE RULES!” Steve Darcis, a Belgian tennis player, had a humorous approach to the situation in his tweet, reminding us that Djokovic had a record of 26-0 in 2020.

Though Djokovic had to leave the U.S. Open, he also had a substantial price to pay. Djokovic should have walked away with three million dollars and been victorious. Not only did he lose potential money, but he also had to pay 250 thousand USD in fines for the prize money. The USTA gives further detail on Djokovic’s situation, referencing the Grand Slam rulebook.

On the same day of his ejection, Djokovic posted a statement on Instagram expressing his sadness and disappointment with himself.

While many tennis players have moments of unsportsmanlike conduct, Djokovic’s accidental mistake turned into an abundance of consequences. The odds were certainly not in his favor, as his actions can be considered the most costly in tennis history.

There is a high chance that Djokovic was going to leave the U.S. Open with a trophy. While him being defaulted prevented him from this success, it allowed players who would not usually get the chance of winning, to have the opportunity. Instead of seeing one of the “Big Three” players’ names as a headliner, a new name got to appear. Dominic Thiem, an Austrian tennis player, won his first grand slam title. While it was an unfortunate event for Djokovic, his default brought success to new players.