Top seed Novak Djokovic was Sunday night disqualified from his US Open fourth-round match after accidentally hitting a ball at a line judge.
Djokovic showed his frustration after losing serve to trail 6-5 against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
The Serbian world number one took a ball out of his pocket and hit it behind him, striking the female line judge in her throat.
After a lengthy discussion, he was defaulted by tournament officials.
The Grand Slam rules state: “Players shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site.
“The referee, in consultation with the Grand Slam chief of supervisors may declare a default for either a single violation of this code.”
Djokovic was the heavy favourite toi wn the men’s singles title at the US Open, which is being played behind closed doors and is the first Grand Slam to take place since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Going into the match against 20th seed Carreno Busta, Djokovic had not lost a singles match in 2020.
This was arguably the most dramatic default since British umpire Gerry Armstrong, now the Wimbledon Referee, disqualified John McEnroe from the Australian Open 1990 for verbal abuse.
Djokovic had looked extremely likely to add to his 17 Major titles and had been in imperious form, boasting a 26-0 record for 2020 which looked likely to extend to the end of this strange season.
It is a massive blow to his hopes of usurping Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, both absent from Flushing Meadows, but who stand on 19 and 20 respectively. At the age of 33 he can hardly afford to spurn such opportunities.
One upshot of the drama is that there is going to be a long-awaited new Grand Slam champion in men’s tennis for the first time since Marin Cilic won in New York six years ago, with the young guns eagerly waiting in the wings for one of the established stars to slip.
There appears little question that Djokovic’s angry swish of the racket did not mean to injure anyone, it was just an act of frustration. Immediately that he saw he had hit his unintended target he gestured his apology, and knew that he was in deep trouble.
Tim Henman was defaulted from Wimbledon 25 years ago for a similar mishap, and he knew better than anyone that there was no alternative to the punishment.