The world of tennis is reeling after number one-ranked Novak Djokovic was disqualified from the U.S. Open tournament after accidentally striking a line judge in the throat with a tennis ball out of frustration.
Djokovic — who had previously remained undefeated since 2019 — was automatically defaulted from the tournament as per Official Grand Slam regulations. His removal meant that he will lose all ranking points earned in the tournament as well as $250,000 in earned prize money.
Djokovic was losing 6-5 to Spain’s Carreño Busta when he fired off a spare ball behind him, unaware that a line judge was in his path of trajectory. The ball hit the judge a mere second after leaving Djokovic’s racket, leaving her with no time to move or even react as the ball struck her in the throat.
The scandal caused by Djokovic’s dismissal led to many fans taking their anger out on the line judge instead of the governing officials or Djokovic himself. In recent days, she has become the target of vicious attacks and even death threats from angry fans who feel she had no right to stand in their player’s way of an eighteenth Grand Slam singles title.
In response to this, Djokovic apologized for his actions on the court and called for his fans to be “supportive” of the judge on his social media accounts.
While it can never be proven exactly what Djokovic was thinking as he fired off his shot, the expression on his face is less than empathetic towards the judge. With his lips pursed together, the offending player ran to the official, then immediately began pleading his case to the higher-level judges.
“She doesn’t have to go to the hospital for this,” Djokovic said to a referee upon hearing the decision. “You’re going to choose a default in this situation? My career, Grand Slam, center stage.”
This is the matter that is the most concerning in this event. Upon hearing these words, it becomes clear to everyone that regardless of his original intent, Djokovic only cared about himself during that match. The line judge’s duty was to stand behind the player to see if an incoming ball was out of play; the fact that she was struck meant that Djokovic forgot he wasn’t the only person on the court.
It was also hurtful to hear him speak of his career. In a stadium nearly empty due to restrictions in place in the time of COVID-19, the gasping coughs of the judge echoed for all to hear as she collapsed after being struck in the center of her throat. For Djokovic to downplay her pain, for him to even factor it into his punishment, was sickening to see, especially as she had to retire for the rest of the match.
This isn’t the only moment of carelessness displayed by tennis’s number one player. Earlier this summer, Djokovic originally planned to skip the U.S. Open after contracting COVID-19 at a tournament and party he organized with no social distancing involved. He has also described himself as against a rule that would make vaccinations mandatory for players to continue to compete.
What Novak Djokovic fails to recognize is that his actions directly impact others. A ball struck in anger always has the potential to strike someone else regardless of intent. A party in close quarters following no COVID-19 protocols can always lead to the possibility of an infected guest. Playing against someone who is unvaccinated can always lead to an infection, as Djokovic himself knows.
Sure, he said the right things by apologizing after the match. It was also good for him to defend the judge after abuse and death threats were leveled at her. But in the moment, Djokovic only cared about himself and the fact that he was no longer going to remain undefeated in 2020.