Top seed and three-time former champion Novak Djokovic has been disqualified from his US Open fourth-round match after accidentally hitting a linesperson with a ball.

After losing serve to trail 5-6 against no.20 seed Pablo Carreno Busta at Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday, Novak took a ball and hit it behind him, not aiming at anyone. Unfortunately, it struck the lineswoman. Novak was immediately concerned for the lady, who went down in distress after an incident that appeared to be completely unintentional. After a lengthy discussion, he was defaulted by tournament officials.

Novak apologized for his behavior and said the situation had left him feeling “sad and empty”.

“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. 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 US Open 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.”

Novak was the favourite to win the title at the US Open, which is being played at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center without fans in attendance. It is the first Grand Slam to take place since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Going into the last 16 encounter, Djokovic had not lost a match in 2020 (26-0).

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