Novak Djokovic is used to polarising opinion in the tennis world and the Serbian star's apology over his US Open disqualification has done exactly that.
The World No.1 was booted from the tournament during the opening set of his fourth round clash with Pablo Carreno Busta after hitting a tennis ball into the throat of a female line judge.
'FACE UP TO IT': Djokovic slammed over US Open response
'RIGHT CALL': Why Djokovic had to be disqualified
The incident sparked outrage online, with commentators and fans condemning the Serbian star over the incident.
Many expected the 33-year-old to front media in his obligatory press conference afterwards, but Djokovic promptly hopped into a car and left the Flushing Meadows precinct before doing so.
Some three hours after the indiscretion, Djokovic took to Instagram to apologise for his outburst in a lengthy statement many fans praised for being "classy" and "genuine".
Good solid apology from Djokovic. He gets that it’s all on him. https://t.co/451gVaAYwt— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) September 6, 2020
Thats what a man does. Takes responsibility.— Jack Torrance (@y_redrum0376) September 6, 2020
Unambiguous and classy apology from #Djokovic. Exactly the right tone. Despite how he must feel, these were the right words, and uttered impressively quickly, less than three hours after the incident.— 😷Martin Findlay 😷 (@martingfindlay) September 6, 2020
Classy in the circumstances. #USOpen https://t.co/0qyoxlhxP7 pic.twitter.com/Pw0AdMavPD
He went to the lines person right away. He knew that it was a mistake. People screw up sometimes. Glad everyone is OK.— adlangx (@adlangx) September 6, 2020
hard not to feel empathy for Novak Djokovic and I really hope he does learn and grow from this. though absolutely necessary, this apology feels genuine and cannot have been easy to make https://t.co/J4tQZk9bOw— Horacio Silva (@stopthepixels) September 6, 2020
As is often the case when it comes to Djokovic though, the Serbian's response proved divisive.
The 33-year-old has often confronted the harsh reality that while great rivals Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal are universally loved, the Serbian star is not afforded the same level of adoration around the world.
This latest controversy in New York has merely reinforced that notion for a swathe of tennis fans.
While many critics acknowledge that he eventually did the right thing by apologising, there is strong feeling on social media that Djokovic should have done so in person, in front of the media.
Djokovic is GUTLESS and selfish for not doing a press conference. He should have taken responsibility and APOLOGIZED to that woman and her family. No one knows the pain or damage she is dealing with at this very moment. #USOpen— D. Sala (@hi_7hills) September 6, 2020
I wondered why it was taking you so long to react. Djokovic pretty cowardly to slink off the grounds without apologizing or facing the press.— andrea van slyke (@asvanslyke) September 6, 2020
Pretty cowardly behaviour from Novak Djokovic. At least face the music after committing such a silly act, even if it was unintentional ... https://t.co/7WpYn5cOlV— Mark Atkinson (@atkotweets) September 6, 2020
Yeah Djokovic actually hit someone in the throat, and it wasn't an accident. Again Serena sat at her press conference without the help of a pandemic. He ran with his tail between his legs.— A (@GoldenSpice1922) September 7, 2020
Djokovic's PR team did a good job while he avoided a mandatory press conference and left the tournament as quickly as he could. What a class act am I right??? https://t.co/QmcfNNqiNy— Charactennis Tweets™ (@charactenniss) September 6, 2020
Decision to disqualify Djokovic explained
The US Tennis Association issued a statement after the match saying Djokovic was defaulted "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 USTA went on to say Djokovic forfeits the ranking points and $US250,000 in prize money he earned in the tournament - "in addition to any or all fines levied with respect to the offending incident".
Additional fines are likely to include a $20,000 penalty for skipping his post-match press conference.
Djokovic had won five of the past seven grand slam tournaments to raise his total to 17, closing in on rivals Roger Federer, who has a men's-record 20, and Rafael Nadal, who has 19.
With reigning US Open champion Nadal and Federer not in the field, the 33-year-old Djokovic was expected to claim a fourth trophy in New York.
But it all came apart so suddenly on Sunday, even if it was clear that Djokovic did not intend to hit the line judge.
He wasn't looking in her direction when his racket made contact with the ball, and there was concern written on his face as soon as he realised what happened.
"I was a little bit in shock, no?" Carreno Busta said at a news conference done via video after his unlikely win.
When asked whether the Serbian should have been allowed to play on, Carreno Busta shrugged and replied: "Well, the rules are the rules. ... the referee and the supervisor (did) the right thing, but it's not easy to do it."
No.5 seed Alexander Zverev said Djokovic was "very unlucky" in that his ball struck the line judge, when on most occasions the ball would sail harmlessly wide of her.
"I think the supervisors and all them are just doing their job, but very unlucky for Novak," Zverev said after his reaching the quarter-finals with a win on Sunday in New York.
"If it would have landed anywhere else - we're talking a few inches - he would have been fine."
Djokovic's disqualification guarantees that there will be a first time grand slam winner, with no player left in the men's draw with a grand slam title to his name.