Novak Djokovic was disqualified from the US Open on Sunday after hitting a line judge with the ball after a point during his fourth-round match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
After dropping his serve to trail 6-5 in the opening set, a frustrated Djokovic smashed a loose ball down the court, which hit the lineswoman.
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.
However it was clear immediately that the woman was hurt, with the Serbian star rushing over to check on her condition.
The world No.1 pleaded his case at length before accepting his fate, collecting his rackets and walking off the court.
During the discussion Djokovic was furious with the decision and could be heard telling the umpire: “She doesn’t have to go to the hospital for this.
“You’re going to choose a default in this situation? My career, Grand Slam, center stage.”
The incident came as a huge shock and the decision will send shockwaves through the sport.
Under the rules of the game there is no option other than a default and despite Djokovic’s pleadings that he had not meant to hit the official, he was eventually disqualified.
The 2020 Grand Slam rulebook says: “Players shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site.
“In circumstances that are flagrant and particularly injurious to the success of a tournament, or are singularly egregious, a single violation of this section shall also constitute the major offence of ‘aggravated behaviour’.
“The referee in consultation with the grand slam chief of supervisors may declare a default for either a single violation of this code or pursuant to the point penalty schedule.
“In all cases of default, the decision of the referee in consultation with the grand slam chief of supervisors shall be final and unappealable.”
Djokovic shook hands with a stunned Carreno Busta and trudged off to face the music.
It was an incredible end to the top seed’s hopes of winning an 18th Grand Slam title – something that had looked increasingly likely as the fortnight progressed.
“It’s the right decision,” Tim Henman, who was disqualified from Wimbledon for a similar incident in 1995, told Amazon Prime.
“He is not aiming for the line judge, but has hit the ball away and you have to be responsible for your actions.”
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.