“You never know in tennis, but on this occasion you know.” The words of the BBC live text nightwatchman preempted a routine Novak Djokovic victory in the US Open 2020 before hunkering down for a sleepy Sunday evening shift around 8pm last night.
And then it happened.
A sweep of the hand, a lazy streak of neon green, a line judge on the floor. Djokovic embarrassed and apologetic, Djokovic sent packing, Djokovic whisked away by car.
With a flick of the wrist, the US Open has been rocked to its core, the favourite out of contention, and while some believe the harsh punishment of automatic elimination from the tournament does not fit the crime, few will deny the Serbian’s exit has just transformed the tournament, blown it wide open, and invited the whole ‘chasing pack’ to come and have a go.
It wasn’t the only sporting drama of the day as Formula 1 finally put on a show that the world was eager to see.
File a Hamilton race win alongside death and taxes. There was no way the Mercedes star could possibly let his Italian Grand Prix lead slip – until he did.
A bizarre incident saw Hamilton enter the pit lane moments after two – now infamous – red ‘X’ lights flashed on the iconic Parabolica curve at Monza, signalling the pit lane had closed.
The British driver was handed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty when the race resumed following a red flag caused by a Charles Leclerc crash, effectively putting him 30 seconds behind every remaining driver left on the circuit once the race resumed.
And oh, what a race! It’s nothing personal against Hamilton, but to see the expected, processional order come crumbling down was a sight to behold.
AlphaTauri driver Pierre Gasly – dropped by Red Bull mid-season in 2019 – completed the ultimate F1 redemption story as he burst through the pack to seize the win, McLaren stars Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris came second and fourth with Lance Stroll of Racing Point sandwiched between.
Hamilton’s steady surge through the pack was also thrilling to watch, and while he will be disappointed not to win, his inner-race driver will have been overjoyed with the opportunity to claw through an entire grid ahead of him.
The racing was unsettlingly fresh. Fans are so accustomed to not caring about the race winner in F1 as the result is usually a forgone conclusion before a pedal has been pushed, but this was different. This was sport at its wildest, its most unpredictable, its absolute best.
Djokovic has apologised for a situation that has left him “sad and empty”, but the rules are clear and now he has to live with his mistake.
However, a cursory glance at the remaining runners and riders in the US Open race should be enough to reenergise tennis fans across the world, in the same way F1 supporters were jolted to the edge of their seats and beyond for most of yesterday afternoon.
Dominic Thiem? Daniil Medvedev? Alexander Zverev? Somebody else entirely? It doesn’t matter who clinches it, the excitement is born from the fact that anybody can.
Sport has a tendency to settle into unstoppable rhythms, its stars dancing to a beat, fans knowing how the song goes but listening anyway.
But Sunday broke the record.
Check out our US Open 2020 schedule for further details on matches coming up.