To no one’s surprise, Serena Williams set another U.S. Open record Monday, notching her 100th career win on Arthur Ashe Stadium, defeating Maria Sakkar, of Greece, Monday 3-6, 7-6, 6-3 in the fourth round. The victory kept Williams on course to tie Margaret Court’s career titles record (24) at the four major events (Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open).
Also, to no one’s surprise, Williams’ saga took a back seat to the humbling record set by Novak Djokovic a day earlier when he became the first No. 1 player tossed out of the U.S. Open after unintentionally hitting a linesperson in the throat with a tennis ball. With the tennis world abuzz and the media in hot pursuit for player reaction, Williams, who’s had her share of controversies at the U.S. Open over the years, sidestepped media questions relating to Novak’s third round shocker against Pablo Carreno Busta, Spain, who led 6-5 in the first set.
“I already said I’m not touching that,” she said, smiling. “I’m going to leave that to you guys. Good try, though.”
Realizing that the unidentified lineswoman was hurt, Djokovic quickly moved to her side, but that didn’t help his cause. After a lengthy discussion, referee Soeren Friemel, said that though Djokovic didn’t hit the lineswoman intentionally, he struck the ball in anger and caused the injury. “It’s not just intent, but result,” Friemel said.
Later Sunday, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) said in a statement: “Because he was defaulted, Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and will be fined the prize money ($163,000) won at the tournament in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident.”
Mike Lupica, author and former New York Daily News columnist, supported Friemel’s decision. “They all know the rule about abuse of ball,” Lupica told MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “He got exactly what he deserved for what he did.”
Said ESPN’s John McEnroe: “The pressure just got to him, I think. A lot’s been going on off the court, it’s obviously affected him. And now, whether he likes it or not, he’s going to be the bad guy the rest of his career. … I didn’t say he couldn’t recover. … he could recover, absolutely. He’s chasing history, he’s trying to pass Rafa (Rafael Nadal) and Roger (Federer), we all know that. He’s younger, he’s got a lot of things going for him, but this is obviously a stain that he’s not going to be able to erase … It’s not about the physical part and him getting older.”
Djokovic was vying for his fourth U.S. Open crown. A title would have given him his 18th major, placing him one behind Nadal (19) and two behind Federer (20) for the career record. The 33-year-old Serb was on a 29-match win streak and was a heavy favorite to leave New York with two 2020 major titles. He won the 2020 Australian Open earlier this year. “They asked me before the (US Open), ‘Novak or the field,’ and I took Novak,’’ McEnroe said.
Several months ago, Djokovic faced heavy criticism for sponsoring a two-week tennis-charity exhibition in the Balkans without establishing social health guidelines (social distancing, wearing of masks, etc.) to combat Covid-19, a virus that has infected millions and killed hundreds of thousands people worldwide. Several of the players including Djokovic, his wife, Jelena, and coach Goran Ivanisevic tested positive for the virus. He responded then to negative reaction with a written message. Now this and the response once again comes in the form of a written statement.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” Djokovic wrote. “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 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 @usopen 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.”
McEnroe frowned on Djokovic’s decision not to face the media.
“You’ve got to man up there, that’s dumb,” McEnroe said. “In the past I’ve seen him take responsibility when he’s blown it. In this it makes it even worse. That he didn’t show up.”
The door now is open for a player other than the big 3 – Djokovic, Nadal and Federer – to walk away with a major title for the first time since Stan Wawrinka, (2016 U.S Open).
No. 2 Dominic Thiem, No. 3 Daniil Medvedev and No.5 Alexander Zverev are among the favorites.
“Now it gets interesting,” Zverev said.