Novak Djokovic has been slammed by commentators and fans alike over his response to a controversial incident at the US Open.
The World No.1 was sensationally disqualified from the tournament after hitting a ball away in frustration that struck a female line judge in the throat, during the Serbian star's fourth round match against Pablo Carreno Busta.
'RIGHT CALL': Why Djokovic had to be disqualified
Djokovic had just been broken and as he walked to the Arthur Ashe Stadium sideline for a changeover, trailing 6-5 in the opening set, Djokovic angrily smacked a ball behind him that flew straight into the unsuspecting line judge, who dropped to her knees and clutched at her neck.
Many viewers pointed out that rather than rushing over to check on the stricken official, Djokovic casually strolled over before offering her an apology.
More jarring for fans was the Serbian's protestations when tournament officials began discussing a default as a possible punishment for the incident.
“She doesn’t have to go to the hospital for this,” Djokovic could be heard saying on the television broadcast.
“You’re going to choose a default in this situation? My career, grand slam, centre stage?
“If she would have gotten up right away..." Djokovic added as he desperately fought for his place in the grand slam tournament.
The 33-year-old pleas were to no avail as he was eventually hit with the default by officials, ending his tournament and hopes for an 18th grand slam.
The US Tennis Association explained the decision came about because of Djokovic's "actions of intentionally hitting a ball dangerously or recklessly within the court or hitting a ball with negligent disregard of the consequences".
The USTA said Djokovic would forfeit his ranking points and be fined $US250,000 in prize money he earned in the tournament, plus any other penalties he incurs as a result of the incident.
Djokovic will likely have $20,000 added onto his penalty for failing to address the media as per his post-match obligations.
Outrage as World No.1 fails to front media
Instead of facing up to the incident, the 17-time grand slam champion got in a car and drove off straight afterwards, in another act that's seen him come under fire.
“Unfortunately he’s compounding the error. He needs to face up to it, apologise and accept he made a mistake," former British star Tim Henman said on Prime Video’s coverage.
“By, in essence, running away, it’s going to go on longer.”
Another former British star Greg Rusedski agreed with Henman's stance, insisting Djokovic needed answer questions about the controversy.
“This was the correct decision under the rules regardless of intent or not. Novak should have stayed for the press conference & apologised,” he tweeted.
“We must take responsibility for our actions no matter how difficult the situation is.”
While he failed to front media after the incident, Djokovic did post an apology on Instagram, some three hours after his controversial exit.
“This whole situation has left me really sad and empty. I checked on the lines person and the tournament told me that thank God she is feeling OK,” he wrote.
“I’m extremely sorry to have caused her such stress. So unintended. So wrong. I’m not disclosing her name to respect her privacy.
“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. I apologise to the @usopen 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.”
Soon after his expulsion, an old video of resurfaced on social media where Djokovic was asked by a journalist if hitting balls away in frustration while on court put the Serbian at risk of being suspended.
The World No.1 scoffs at the question in the clip, accuses the media of having an agenda against him, and finishes off by insisting that he doesn't have a temper problem on court.
The irony of the clip after this latest incident at the US Open has not been lost on tennis fans, with many suggesting that such an incident has been a long time coming.