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Top Moments of 2020: Novak Djokovic's shocking US Open exit by default
The top seed cut a lonely figure as he walked off the court carrying his bags, perhaps providing yet another occasion to reflect on the consequences of a rash decision.
Published Dec 16, 2020
2020 was a season like no other. Click here to review the top moments from the pandemic-ravaged year.
The most memorable shot hit by Novak Djokovic this season happened when the ball wasn't even in play. The 33-year-old Serb, broken at 5-6 in the first set of his fourth-round meeting with Pablo Carreno Busta at the US Open, swiped a ball towards the back of the court in frustration. It accidentally caught a lineswoman in the throat, causing her to exclaim with pain and fall to the ground.
Djokovic, who had not looked at where he was hitting the ball, turned around in alarm and immediately knew that his tournament was likely finished.
A few minutes of discussions between officials, Djokovic and tournament referee Soeren Friemel led to the news being confirmed—the top seed had been defaulted from the US Open. It was his first defeat of the season, and the first time any reigning No. 1 had ever been defaulted at a major.
The shock was palpable. There were no crowds to fill the hollow silence, but commentators sounded bewildered while reaction from fans poured in online. Djokovic cut a lonely figure as he walked off the court carrying his bags, perhaps providing yet another occasion to reflect on the consequences of a rash decision.
That was becoming something of a refrain for Djokovic—he tested positive for coronavirus upon organizing the Adria Tour exhibition that eschewed safety protocols; he resigned from the ATP Player Council to help start the PTPA player organization while tournaments were reeling from the impact of the pandemic; he drew criticism for backing unfounded scientific claims on social media. And it was not the first time in his career or during these two weeks—or even during this match—that he had angrily hit a ball towards the boards.
Apologizing to the lineswoman and the tournament on social media, Djokovic added, "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."
It was all very different from the way his season had started—a win at the inaugural ATP Cup in front of roaring crowds, followed by a 17th Grand Slam trophy at the Australian Open and a title in Dubai before the professional tours shut down for five months. Djokovic also earned praise at the beginning of the pandemic, starting an initiative to provide funds for lower-ranked players and announcing a donation of $1 million for Italian and Serbian hospitals.
Djokovic bounced back from the default—he would win Rome, reach the final of Roland Garros and finish No. 1 in the rankings to wrap up another successful season on court. But his reputation will take a little longer to recover off it.