Novak Djokovic, the world’s top-ranked tennis player, has been disqualified in the fourth round of the US Open after striking a line judge with a ball following a point during the first set of his match on Sunday against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.

Djokovic had become frustrated after suffering a fall and having dropped serve to trail 5-6. He hit a ball to the back of the court, and struck a female line judge above the shoulders.

He immediately apologised and stood over her when she appeared in distress on the ground.

Soeren Friemel, the tournament referee, came on court and spoke to match umpire Aurelie Tourte before a lengthy discussion with the 33-year-old Serb, a three-time winner of the event.

Djokovic was making the point that he had not intended to hit the official but, under the rules of tennis, his fate was sealed.

The relevant Grand Slam rules states: “Players shall not at any time physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site . . . The referee, in consultation with the Grand Slam chief of supervisors may declare a default for . . . a single violation of this code.”

Despite his pleadings, Djokovic was eventually disqualified before walking over to shake hands with a stunned Carreno Busta and leaving the Arthur Ashe Stadium court at Flushing Meadows in New York.

Novak Djokovic pleads with Soeren Friemel, the tournament referee © Jason Szenes/EPA-EFE

It was an unexpected 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.”

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Former champion Mats Wilander, analysing the action for Eurosport, said it was very unlucky for Djokovic but that it had been the correct decision.

“You are not allowed to do that,” he said. “It’s as much bad luck as you can have on a tennis court. He didn’t just roll the ball back to the ball kid, that’s the bottom line.

“He hit it harder than he intended to, obviously a complete accident. It was a sign of frustration, yes. A little bit. But it doesn’t matter, you are not allowed to do it.”

“I’m a little bit in shock right now, to be honest,” Alexander Zverev told reporters after his own fourth-round win over Alejandro Davidovich Fokina. “If he would have hit it anywhere else, if it would have landed anywhere else, we are talking about a few inches, he would have been fine.”

Carreno Busta will face a quarter-final against either Denis Shapovalov or seventh seed David Goffin.

A tournament spokesman told Reuters the line judge appears to be OK and was not brought off-site. Her identity is not known.

Via Financial Times