Novak Djokovic has issued an apology for hitting a line judge with a ball at the US Open, saying he is “extremely sorry for creating her such stress”.
Serbian World number one Djokovic, 33, was disqualified from his fourth-round match against Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta because of the incident.
The Serb took a ball out of his pocket and hit it behind him, striking the woman in her throat.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty,” said Djokovic.
“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. I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy.”
After a lengthy discussion, Djokovic was defaulted by tournament officials at Flushing Meadows.
He will lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and will forfeit the prize money he had won at the tournament.
He could also be fined for the incident.
“As for the disqualification, I need to go back within and work on my disappointment and turn this all into a lesson for my growth and evolution as a player and human being,” Djokovic added in a statement on Instagram.
“I apologise to the US Open tournament and everyone associated for my behaviour. I’m very grateful to my team and family for being my rock support, and my fans for always being there with me.
“Thank you and I’m so sorry.”
His exit ended his hopes of winning an 18th Grand Slam title and narrowing the gap on Rafael Nadal (19) and Roger Federer (20) in the race to finish with the most men’s major wins.
The disqualification is the latest in a series of controversies involving Djokovic this summer.
He was unbeaten in 26 matches going into the fourth-round match against Carreno Busta, but rather than extend his unbeaten run in 2020 to a 27th victory he made an undignified exit and courted yet more controversy.
In June, Djokovic was one of several players – along with Grigor Dimitrov, Borna Coric and Viktor Troicki – who tested positive for coronavirus after playing at the world number one’s Adria Tour competition.
Djokovic apologised for staging the exhibition event in the Balkans, which was held in front of fans and without social distancing rules being observed.
After announcing his positive test, he conceded it had been “too soon” to stage the event.
In the midst of the pandemic, Djokovic was accused of being opposed to vaccines – something which he later denied – and also drew criticism for saying water could be purified by positivity.
On the eve of the US Open, he found himself at the centre of more controversy after driving the creation of a new players’ union.
Djokovic and Canadian Vasek Pospisil led about 70 players in forming the Professional Tennis Players’ Association, with those joining unhappy at the ATP’s governance and wanting to increase the power of the players.
Nadal and Federer were among those who opposed the new union and questioned its timing, while Britain’s former number one Andy Murray called for WTA players to be involved.