Why was lineswoman Laura Clark blamed for Novak Djokovic’s US Open ouster?

Tennis star Novak Djokovic attending to the lines judge he injured. He became the first big name player to be defaulted since the mercurial John McEnroe was forced to exit the Australian Open in 1990. 

Novak Djokovic exited US Open 2020 in strange circumstances. Trailing in a fourth round men’s singles match, Djokovic inadvertently slammed the ball towards the display board. Little did he know that a little show of frustration would strike a line judge on her throat. 

The line judge fell to the ground holding her throat. Novak Djokovic immediately went to check up on her. But what had to happen, happened. The damage had already been done to both the lineswoman and Novak Djokovic.

Djokovic was disqualified with evidence of him “hitting” another person on court. The Australian Open 2020 winner was in the news recently for breaking lockdown guidelines at a private tennis tournament in Serbia. 

Later he would contract and then recover from Covid-19. The Serbian star was pushing for an 18th Grand Slam singles title having last won the US Open in 2018.

The Aftermath    

Djokovic apologised for his actions on his Instagram handle before making an earnest attempt to hide the lines judge’s name. The US Open organisers had also tried to hide her name to respect her privacy.  

A Serbian tabloid dug deep to uncover her identity, eventually finding her profile on Instagram. They revealed her name. Overnight, an unassuming Laura Clark had become a public enemy. 

And thus began a barrage of vile comments on her now deleted Instagram handle. Fans of Novak Djokovic perhaps went overboard in calling her an “alcoholic” and mentally unstable.

Other users accused her of “faking the injury” while some warned her that her “karma will come back” to haunt her. 

Even a personal post dedicated to her late son couldn’t escape the wrath of fans. 25 year old Josh Clark had died in a road accident in 2008. An angry fan commented by saying,”Don’t worry you’ll join him soon.”    

A lot of the hate directed at Clark seems unreasonable. But it’s probably just the byproduct of controversy chasing a high-profile star.

Novak Djokovic summoned his fans to stop the negative bashing of Clark. He urged them to be “caring and supportive” towards her. 

The men’s World No.1 reiterated that the lines judge was faultless throughout the entire episode. To be fair to him, he has been trying hard to drill that into the mind of his fans.

‘Need to have really good eyes’

Speaking in an interview about the pressures of her role, she told Owensboro Living, ““You have to have really good eyes. You need stamina to be able to stand on your feet a lot and you have to have really thick skin — not only thick skin, but a lot of confidence in yourself. Without that, you’re going to be eaten alive,” Clark said.

“The only times we are seen by the people are during our mess-ups. Period,” she added.

“The first time you are on a big court it is terrifying, and it is the coolest, most terrifying experience in the whole world. You are shaking so hard and you’re sure they can see you shaking.”

The Djokovic accident wasn’t the first time that she’d taken a blow on court.  She revealed an instance of completely misreading a 130 mph serve that busted open her lip.

“I had never learned the technique of move, and it busted my lip totally. That’s probably the most memorable because I was brand new.” 

Nadal’s similar scare at AO 2020

Earlier this year, Rafael Nadal encountered his ‘scariest moment’ on the court against Argentine Federico Delbonis. Returning a serve, he struck a powerful forehand which hit a ball girl named Annita on her face. Nadal winced at having seen the young girl take a blow.

He immediately rushed to check on her, kissed her cheek and patted her in apology. Annita put up a brave face and was eager for the match to continue.

Navratilova isn’t impressed

Djokovic was absent for the post match press conference where he was expected to issue the apology. He later took to social media but that did not particularly go down well with former US Open champion Martina Navratilova.

Speaking on Tennis Channel, Navratilova compared Djokovic’s failure to address the media with a “break up done via email.”

The 63 year old former singles and doubles World Number 1 said that Novak ought to show more spine after making an error. 

“Okay, he made a mistake in a split second, but then he had time to think about everything and he ran away! He did not have the courage to go out in front of the press to talk about it, it is like an apology without an apology. Yes, of course, he is sorry that he did that, but he should have stayed to talk to the journalists,” she said.  

Martina Navratilova was less than impressed with Novak Djokovic’s behaviour after he injured lines judge Laura Clark.

The US Open in a statement said that Djokovic will lose the ranking points accumulated at the tournament in addition to prize money. “In accordance with the Grand Slam rulebook, 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.” 

He was fined $7500 by the United States Tennis Association for not turning up at the press conference. The organizers imposed another penalty of $10000 for unprofessional conduct.

Double fault? We think not

Tournament referee Soeren Friemel revealed that Novak Djokovic did not want to get disqualified because there was no harm intended. 

Friemel agreed that there was no malice but said that he clearly smashed the ball “angrily and recklessly.”  “She was clearly hurt and in pain. There was no other option,” he told reporters. 

Laura Clark is just as faultless. She is recovering under supervision from a tournament doctor. Her recovery would be far from straightforward if she was to see her Instagram notifications. 

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