NEW YORK • Novak Djokovic has pleaded for compassion for the line judge he inadvertently struck in the throat with a ball at the US Open on Monday.
The Serb was disqualified in the fourth round after he hit a ball to the back of the court in frustration after dropping serve in the first set against Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, sending the official to the floor.
As she screamed out in pain, a horrified Djokovic went over to her and apologised.
A tournament spokesman later said the line judge was okay and was not brought off-site, but that did not absolve Djokovic, with the 33-year-old receiving the harshest punishment possible.
He was fined US$10,000 (S$13,700) on top of being asked to forfeit US$250,000 in prize money after being disqualified from the hard-court Grand Slam for unsportsmanlike conduct.
The female official has, however, since faced a backlash on social media, with some fans of the world No. 1 leaving abusive comments after her Instagram username was carried by Serbian media.
“Shame on you. Old lady full of evil,” read one of the messages, while other users accused her of faking the injury, taking a dive and “bad acting”.
The Daily Mail also said that some even mocked the death of her son.
Djokovic yesterday defended the official on Twitter, while thanking fans who had left him positive messages of support.
“Please also remember the linesperson that was hit by the ball last night needs our community’s support too. She’s done nothing wrong at all,” the 17-time Grand Slam winner said. “I ask you to stay especially supportive and caring to her during this time.
“From these moments, we grow stronger and we rise above. Sharing love with everyone.”
Britain’s Tim Henman, who suffered a similar fate in 1995 at Wimbledon, feels that the Australian Open champion would learn from the experience.
“Djokovic has had plenty of examples in the past where he has cut it pretty fine on the court,” the former world No. 4 told The Times of London.
“Unfortunately for him, he has got it wrong this time and suffered the harshest penalty. I think he will take this on board because he is a bright individual.
“Going forward, he won’t be hitting balls and throwing his racket because he knows what the reaction will be.”