Officials need to give players some respite in major tourneys

Novak Djokovic of Serbia returns a volley during his Men's Singles third round match against Jan-Lennard Struff of Germany on Day Five of the 2020 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on September 04, 2020 in the Queens borough of New York City.

Photo credit: Matthew Stockman | AFP

What you need to know:

  • The Serbian World No.1 lost his serve while trailing his Spanish opponent 6-5 and in frustration, he took a ball out of his pocket and hit it behind him.
  • A horrified Djokovic, now clearly least bothered by the lost serve, is seen apologizing profusely to the veteran tennis official.

I sympathise with top-ranked male tennis player Novak Djokovic who was disqualified from US Open tennis tournament last Sunday for accidentally hitting a line judge with a ball during his last 16 match against Pablo Carreno Busta.

The Serbian World No.1 lost his serve while trailing his Spanish opponent 6-5 and in frustration, he took a ball out of his pocket and hit it behind him.

The ball accidentally struck the female line judge in the throat, and the line judge, identified as Laura Clark from Owensboro, Kentucky, fell down, clutching her throat.

The video footage from the tournament shows Clark lying down, all the while wheezing dramatically while a worried Djokovic races over.

As if competing to see who would reach her first, concerned match officials and members of the medical team abandon their positions and rush to check on Clark, who is now sitting down and holding her throat.

A horrified Djokovic, now clearly least bothered by the lost serve, is seen apologizing profusely to the veteran tennis official.

After a brief examination, the medical team declares that Clark does not require further medical attention. She is then helped back on her feet by other officials. Regardless of intent, Djokovic is thrown out of the tournament for an infraction of the rules.

Djokovic fell afoul of the Grand Slam rulebook that says: “Players shall not at any times physically abuse any official, opponent, spectator or other person within the precincts of the tournament site…physical abuse is the unauthorised touching of an official, opponent, spectator or other person..."

Commenting about Djokovic’s dismissal, US Tennis Association said: "In accordance with the Grand Slam rule book, following his actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences, the US Open tournament referee defaulted Novak Djokovic from the 2020 US Open."

"Because he was defaulted, Djokovic will lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and will be fined the prize money won at the tournament in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident."

I am of the opinion that Clark made a mountain out of a molehill. While I am not exactly a fan of Djokovic, I find Clark’s exaggerated reaction out of character for a courtside tennis official.

By the very nature of her work and a veteran official at that, she must have found herself on the wrong end of skewed aces on the courtside many times.

A quick background check reveals that Clark is an avid tennis fan who worked her way up from junior and college tennis tournaments to officiate Grand Slam tournaments.

According to US media reports, she had once had a lip busted by a 209kph serve at a tournament in Lousville.

You might say once bitten twice shy, but her CV reads like a battle-hardened courtside tennis official who has worked her way up to officiate in Grand Slam tournaments.

She appeared more sinning than sinned against. Her unwarranted courtside theatrics only served to deny red-hot favourite Djokovic a chance of winning a career 18th Grand Slam tournament title and a chance to narrow the gap on Rafael Nadal (19) and Roger Federer (20).

Djokovic was remorseful in his apology.  Playing on the big stage such as the US Open tennis tournament can be nerve-wrecking for players. 

That puts added pressure on them, and match officials should cut them some slack.

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