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Kiran Gupta unpacks the rules around disqualifications in tennis in light of the Novak Djokovic incident and questions whether the rules need to change.
A few days ago, the tennis world was stunned by the revelation that Novak Djokovic had been defaulted from the US Open. The reason? Towards the end of the first set of his quarter-final match against Pablo Carreno Busta, he hit a ball in anger towards the back of the court. Unfortunately, this ball struck a line judge who collapsed to the ground after being hit. After some discussion with tournament officials, the world number one walked off court in disgrace, refusing to do his post-match press conference and leaving behind his dream of an 18th Grand Slam.
Many questions have been posed since this incident but some have dominated news coverage. Were the rules applied correctly? Were they applied uniformly? And has this happened before?
But there are more questions that we should ask: should there be any room in the laws to allow leniency for a lack of intention? And to what degree does the application of the laws intersect with issues of prejudice, especially when thinking about the 2018 Serena Williams scandal.
The first thing to look at is the Official Grand Slam Rule-Book. Pursuant to Section ‘N’ (‘Abuse of Balls’), Djokovic is clearly in breach of the rule which states “Players shall not violently, dangerously or with anger hit, kick or throw a tennis ball within the precincts of the tournament site except in the reasonable pursuit of a point during a match (including warm-up).” Further, the rules clearly state that the supervisor has the provision to default a player who is in contravention of these rules. From observing these rules, it is pretty clear that the tournament had the right to default Djokovic if they so desired.
But has something like this happened before? And what has happened? In previous cases involving similar consequences, the outcome has always been identical. The most similar incident involved British player Tim Henman who hit a ball in anger which struck a ball kid in 1995. It could even be argued that the Henman incident had more mitigating factors as his argument was that the ball kid walked into the ball. Regardless, he was defaulted from that match and from the tournament.