BY PAUL BOWEN
BDA Sports Editor Emeritus
At least Novak Djokovic took it like a man.
When he was told by the tournament referee that his presence was no longer required at the US Open, he merely shook the man’s hand, shook the hand of the chair umpire and his opponent Pablo Busta, gathered up his stuff and left. As the most casual follower of sports knows, Novak got the heave-ho after accidentally striking a linesperson in the throat with a ball he struck in anger during a changeover.
As far as actionable behavior goes the US Open has seen far worse. You may recall that in 2018 Serena Williams got coded 3 times in two minutes for going all Linda Blair on the chair umpire. Novak’s act of ball abuse resulted in an accidental injury. His concern for the woman whose larynx he had indented was obvious at the time and his remorse was evident from the statement he released which stated in part, “I’m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress…”
Naturally, the question has been asked by the journalists and scholars on social media whether the punishment meted out here fit the particular crime. I don’t know. I do know that the tournament referee followed the rule to the letter. Which is if a player strikes someone with a ball or a racket abused by him and that person has to be removed from the court, the player is disqualified. Period.
It is what us lawyers call a “strict liability” rule in that the intent of the one committing the act is irrelevant. Obviously Novak Djokovic did not intend to hit, much less injure, the linesperson when he slapped the ball back at the wall. Doesn’t matter.
He struck the ball that injured her during a stoppage in play. She had to leave the court. See ya!
And thank God the ref didn’t cut Novak a break. Otherwise, the officials at the US Open would have never heard the end of it from Serenaworld where she remains eternally a victim.
Novak hasn’t heard the end of it either. He forfeited the points and prize money he had earned up to that point. He will probably get fined and/or suspended by the ATP. And he will forever be known for getting tossed at a Rogerless and Rafaless US Open he probably would have won if only he had kept that ball in his pocket instead of buzzing the lineperson’s tower with it.
My guess here is that everybody else will cool it with the ball abuse from here on out after Novak got the book thrown at him.