The look of horror hit Novak Djokovic almost as quickly as the tennis ball that rifled into the throat of the line judge, the result of a frustrated wild shot that ended his US Open fourth round match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
As the line judge slumped to the ground the top seed was quick to apologise and tend to the shocked woman, but it was too late and the Serbian was disqualified. There were no gasps from the crowd with the court empty due to the current pandemic but you could cut the tension with a knife. We wanted not to look, through sheer embarrassment for the world number one, but at the same time we couldn’t keep our eyes off what had just happened.
Djokovic knew he had messed up in front of the millions tuning in, no doubt the collective wince across the globe and fallout to come at the forefront of his mind. He took to Instagram to apologise and said, "This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the linesperson 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.”
However, he isn’t the first tennis star to make such a mistimed mishap and he won’t be the last. Here are some other times players took their anger out in all the wrong ways, often at the expense of another’s safety.
That’s Gotta Hurt!
Denis Shapovalov smashed a ball with ferocious power at umpire Arnaud Gabas during his David Cup tie against Kyle Edmund in 2017. It was unintentional but the damage was severe. Gabas held his face in pain, sat still in one position with the shock of it all, as Canada’s Shapovalov looked on shell-shocked at what he had done.
It was an excruciating watch, Shapovalov urgently waiting in a panic for any sort of reaction from the umpire and clearly wanting the ground to swallow him up as time seemed to stop dead. Gabas eventually demanded ice, in the end the injury was so bad he required surgery for a fractured bone under his left eye
Shapovalov, just 17 at the time, was fined £5,600 by the International Tennis Federation but the story does have a nice ending, with Gabas not harbouring any ill feelings.
"He messages me here and there and I message him," Shapovalov told BBC Sport. "He is an extremely nice guy. He has really helped me get through it because he could have been mean about it - but he is a great gentleman, a great guy."
Anastasia Rodionova, You Better Run For Cover
The Russian-born Australian had had enough and smacked the ball at fans she perceived to be cheering too loudly in favour of her opponent, Angelique Kerber, at the Cincinnati Open thirteen years ago.
She became only the second player on the WTA Tour to be disqualified, when she fired the ball in the direction of Kerber’s passionate followers. Luckily, the ball hit the wall and cannoned back but startled spectators. Having earlier complained to the umpire about the off-putting noise, Rodionova had no idea what she had done wrong after the clash was defaulted for unsportsmanlike conduct.
"I'm shocked," Rodionova protested. "I still don't understand why they defaulted me. I'm really upset. I've never seen in my life anyone defaulted in this situation. I had no warning. I didn't hit the ball at anybody. I didn't swear at anybody. I didn't throw my racket."
Kicked To The Curb
Argentina’s David Nalbandian had a Queen’s final to forget in 2012, after he injured a line judge by kicking an advertising board into his shin.
Drawing blood, Andrew McDougall shot up in pain, looking completely bemused and perplexed at Nalbandian’s actions, who had thumped the panel placed just centimetres in front of the line judge’s seat. Nalbandian looked equally confused at what occurred before fans chanted to ‘play on’. However, it was game over and Marin Cilic was awarded the win.
"I am very sorry, sometimes you get frustrated on court," he admitted to Sue Barker. “Today I've made a mistake. Sometimes I agree and I do but everyone makes mistakes. I don't feel it had to end like that - especially in a final.”
Henman Horror Show
Such a nice, unassuming guy working as a pundit, Henman’s reputation was that he was whiter than his white tennis shirts but back in 1995, he let his emotions spill over, striking a ball girl on the head.
“There’s hard and there’s very hard, that was hard; It wasn’t as if I bulleted it in her face,” he insisted, explaining himself to the officials who now had a decision to make. The girl was visibly shaken and upset but so were the crowd who groaned in despair when the umpire ultimately decided to default, with boos growing louder and louder as he came down from his seat. Who is the real baddy here, people?
Henman and his doubles partner, Jeremy Bates, became the first players to be disqualified from Wimbledon in the professional era.