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Thirty years ago at the Australian Open, John McEnroe was warned multiple times for his offensive behavior. On the third warning, he was disqualified from the event. It was a shocking and historic moment. Disqualifications rarely happen. And most certainly they don’t occur in Grand Slam events to the big-name stars. 

Enter Novak Djokovic. On Sunday Djokovic never received any warnings. It was one simple move in frustration that resulted in his immediate disqualification from the U.S. Open. That single swat of the ball that hit a line judge in the throat will be forever attached to his legacy. In addition to dragging that burden, Djokovic will feel the effects of his careless decision financially as that single error in judgment cost him millions. 

John McEnroe last big name disqualification

John McEnroe designed the template for taking out his frustrations on tennis officials. Line judges or chair umpires, no one was safe from the lashes of McEnroe’s tongue. 

McEnroe earned his nickname of “Superbrat” after years of outbursts against officials and opponents. In one instance, he called Czechoslovakian player Tomas Smid a “communist b**tard.” His most famous eruption came at the All England Club during the 1981 Wimbledon, when he questioned an umpire about a shot with his trademark, “you CANNOT be serious.”

In 1990, McEnroe became the first player to be disqualified from a Grand Slam event since 1963 for his behavior at the Australian Open. He had to actually resign his membership from the prestigious Queen’s Club for uttering a ‘stream of unprintable invectives aimed at various members.’

Novak Djokovic’s temper in the past

Novak Djokovic has done his best John McEnroe impression on more than a few occasions in the past. At the ATP Finals in 2016, Djokovic smashed a ball toward the crowd in frustration after losing a set to Dominic Thiem.

After the match, a reporter asked if he was concerned that such an action could one day “cost you dearly” if the ball hit someone. The Serbian became combative, criticized the question, and suggested he wasn’t concerned at all about that happening.

“You guys are incredible!” he said in the press conference. “Because you are always picking these kinds of things.” 

When asked about his repeated behavior of hitting balls in crowds, Djokovic responded angrily. 

“I keep doing these things? Why don’t I get suspended?” he asked defiantly. 

Novak Djokovic hits line judge


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Novak Djokovic’s words of four years ago foreshadowed today’s events. In the first set, Djokovic carelessly hit a ball in frustration. He didn’t swing with all his might but just enough to hit it in the direction of a nearby line judge. 

Unaware of an incoming ball, it struck her directly on her throat. The woman dropped to her knees and to the ground immediately. Djokovic held up his hand in apology after he saw the woman in distress. He approached her on the ground. 

After several minutes of medical staff tending to the woman, the officials convened and made a ruling. Djokovic was disqualified based on a single rule with explicit language that forbids “intentionally hitting ball dangerously or recklessly…or with negligent disregard of the consequences.” 

That single mistake cost him a lot of money. There’s a fine of $20,000 up to $250,000, or the amount of prize money won at the tournament. Djokovic had won $250,000 by reaching the fourth round. And the No. 1 ranked player and prohibitive favorite to win the Open will not have a chance to win the $3 million first-place check.

John McEnroe has mellowed as he has aged. Djokovic has a lot of tennis left in him and could eventually become the most successful men’s player when his career is finished. Before that, he’s got an attitude and reputation problem he must tend to before any of that can ever happen.