The No. 1 men's tennis player in the world said he was "extremely sorry" after stunningly being forced to default at the U.S. Open on Sunday when he hit a line judge by striking a ball out of frustration.
Three-time U.S. Open champion Novak Djokovic issued an apology on Instagram Sunday night after being disqualified from a tournament where he was the No. 1 seed and clear favorite to capture his 18th Grand Slam title.
"This whole situation has left me really sad and empty," he wrote. "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."
Djokovic was trailing Pablo Carreño Busta in the first set at New York's Arthur Ashe Stadium when he smacked a ball out of frustration that accidentally struck a line judge in the throat.
He then pleaded his case with officials to avoid disqualification.
"You're saying you have no choice, but you have a choice," he told them. "You just told me you have a choice...She doesn't have to go to the hospital or anything."
The U.S. Tennis Association said Djokovic was defaulted for "intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences."
Djokovic did not speak to reporters afterward, posting his apology on Instagram. Tennis legend Billie Jean King weighed in on Twitter about his default.
"First I hope the line judge is okay," she wrote. "The rule is the rule. It is unfortunate for everyone involved, but in this specific situation the default was the right call."
His disqualification was the latest bizarre moment in a tournament held during the coronavirus pandemic that has also included players being put on tight restrictions by contact tracers after a French player tested positive.
Djokovic himself tested positive for COVID-19 in June after hosting a series of exhibition matches and initially complained about measures to protect players.
His default on Sunday cost him ranking points and $250,000 in prize money, and he potentially faces other from from the USTA. His absence means the U.S. Open will have a first-time Grand Slam champion in men's singles for the first time since 2014.