NEW YORK • Novak Djokovic has apologised for his US Open disqualification on Sunday, declaring himself "extremely sorry" for his moment of madness.
The 33-year-old was tossed during his fourth-round match with Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta after accidentally hitting a ball into the throat of a female line official, who screamed out in pain and fell to the ground.
In a statement on Instagram just hours after his sensational exit in New York, the Serbian world No. 1 also said he had been left "really sad and empty" by the controversy.
"I checked on the lines person and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling ok," he added.
"I'm extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong."
Djokovic, who left Flushing Meadows without speaking to reporters following his exit, said he would try to learn from the incident.
"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," he said.
"I apologize to the @usopen tournament and everyone associated for my behavior."
There was no question that he hit the judge inadvertently, and he quickly rushed to apologise, but it was a clear breach of Grand Slam rules forbidding the physical abuse of anyone within the precincts.
Tournament referee Soeren Friemel came out and spoke to chair umpire Aurelie Tourte and Andreas Egli, the Grand Slam supervisor, before a long chat with the three-time US Open champion.
Djokovic, who was clearly making the point that he had not intended to hit the official, was overheard saying: "She doesn't have to go to hospital for this, you're going to choose a default in this situation? My career, grand slam, centre stage."
She doesn't have to go to hospital for this, you're going to choose a default in this situation? My career, grand slam, centre stage.
NOVAK DJOKOVIC, world No. 1, who was disqualified correctly despite making his point that he did not intend any harm.
I'm extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong.
DJOKOVIC, apologising on Instagram for his serious and costly mistake.
OTHER HIGH-PROFILE DQs
2019 Nick Kyrgios
The volatile Australian was disqualified from his second-round match against Norway's Casper Ruud at the Italian Open after he hurled a chair onto the court.
2017 Denis Shapovalov
The Canadian was defaulted from a Davis Cup tie against Britain's Kyle Edmund after he inadvertently hit the umpire in the face with a ball.
2012 David Nalbandian
The Argentinian was disqualified from the Queens' Club Championships final after injuring a line judge by kicking an advertising board into his shin.
2009 Serena Williams
The American was defaulted on the final point of her US Open semi-final against Belgian Kim Clijsters following an argument with a line judge, who reported her for verbal abuse.
1990 John McEnroe
The combative American was disqualified from his Australian Open fourth-round match against Mikael Pernfors after being handed three code violations.
But after 12 minutes of pleading his case, his fate was sealed.
Friemel said there was "no other option" but to disqualify the Serb, explaining that the action warranted removal "based on the fact that the ball was hit angrily, recklessly, that it went straight at the line umpire's throat".
"There are two factors, one is the action and the result," he said.
"And the action - while there was no intent - the result of hitting a line umpire and (her) clearly being hurt is the essential factor in the decision-making process here."
Tennis great John McEnroe, whose own behaviour frequently landed him in hot water during his playing career, said Djokovic had buckled under the pressure.
"The pressure just got to him. I think a lot has been going on off the court," he told ESPN.
The American was seemingly referring to Djokovic's turbulent few months when he was criticised for organising the Adria Tour event in June in which he and several players tested positive for Covid-19.
He then dropped a bombshell on the eve of the US Open by announcing he had resigned as president of the ATP Player Council to front a new players' association.
"It's obviously affected him and whether he likes it or not, he's going to be the bad guy the rest of his career. If he embraces that role, I think he could recover.
"But this is a stain that he's not going to be able to erase," added McEnroe.
The United States Tennis Association has said that Djokovic would lose all ranking points earned at the tournament and be fined US$250,000 (S$341,700) - his round-four prize money.
Following the incident, Nick Kyrgios opened a cheeky Twitter poll asking how many years he would be banned if he had hit an official with a ball.
The Australian has waged a running battle with Djokovic in recent months over his ill-fated Adria Tour, and was quick to have his say.
"Swap me for jokers incident," he said, using Djokovic's nickname.
"Accidentally hitting the ball kid in the throat. How many years would I be banned for?"
The options given were five, 10 or 20 years with the majority voting for 20 years.
With Djokovic's exit and defending champion Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer absent this year, and no other former Major winners left in the men's draw, Flushing Meadows is now guaranteed to welcome a new member into the Grand Slam champions' club.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS