Novak Djokovic says that he has accepted his default from the US Open but he understands it will stick with him for a long time as he prepares to return to competition this week at the Italian Open in Rome.
After losing his serve to trail 5-6 in the first set of his fourth-round match against Pablo Carreño Busta last Sunday week, Djokovic fired a ball behind him which struck a line umpire, Laura Clark, in the neck and led to her falling to the ground. He became one of only five players in the Open era to have been defaulted from a grand slam tournament.
“There were a lot of speculations and discussions whether it was deserved or not. I accepted it and I moved on,” he said in Rome on Monday. “I checked on Laura after the match; she said that she was fine, no big injuries. I felt really sorry to cause the shock and drama to her. She didn’t deserve that in any way.
“It was totally unexpected and very unintended as well, of course, to hit her. But as I said, when you hit the ball like that, as I hit it, you have a chance to hit somebody that is on the court, and the rules are clear when it comes to that. I accepted it, and I had to move on. That’s what I did. Of course I did not forget about it; I don’t think I’ll ever forget about it, because it’s one of these things that stays in your memory for the rest of your life.”
The incident was particularly notable because Djokovic had previously been close to a similar outcome. At Roland Garros in 2016, he threw his racket behind him which narrowly missed a line judge. At the ATP finals later that year, he hit a ball towards his player box and into the crowd, which led to a terse discussion with reporters.
“I understand that I have outbursts and it’s the personality and kind of player that I have always been,” the world No 1 added. “Obviously I went through ups and downs in my career, managing to control my emotions more or less. But you’re alone out there, it’s a lot of intensity, a lot of pressure and you have to deal with all of that.
“So sometimes situations like this happen. I cannot promise or I cannot guarantee that I will never ever do anything similar to that in my life. I don’t know. I mean, I’m definitely going to try my best that something like that never happens again, obviously. But anything is possible, really, in life, so I’m going to take this as profoundly as possible as a big lesson.”
Rome marked Djokovic’s first public remarks since his default from the US Open after he skipped his mandatory press conference following the match against Carreño Busta. Djokovic was fined $7,500 (£5,750) for the missed press conference, $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct and was stripped of his $250,000 prize money in addition to the points won at the event. He says that it was initially difficult to process.
“Of course, it was very hard for me to accept that right after it happened. For a couple of days I was in shock. I was shaken by the whole thing.”
He continued: “I understand that that’s something that is going to stick with me for many years but I am fine with it as well, because I know that it was unintentional. I didn’t want to hurt her. It can happen. It could have happened, maybe even before a few times in my career. And I know it could have happened a lot to other players.
“So it’s not completely out of the blue, so to say, that it’s an unseen situation in tennis. And we will probably see some of that more in tennis in general. Hopefully not so much. And hopefully not from my side.”