John McEnroe said he didn't realize "a little four-letter word" could prove so costly.
But after years of successfully defying authority, McEnroe received a match default Sunday for abusive language in his fourth-round match with Mikael Pernfors and was disqualified from the Australian Open.
It marked the first time in tennis history a player has been disqualified from a Grand Slam event.
McEnroe, the No. 4 seed, was leading the match, 6-1, 4-6, 7-5, 2-4, when he was disqualified by tournament supervisor Ken Farrar for his third conduct violation of the match.
Pernfors was stunned and the fans chanted, "Justice, Justice," when umpire Gerry Armstrong announced the disqualification.
In the third game of the fourth set, McEnroe was issued a warning for trying to intimidate a linesperson after a controversial call. Then, trailing, 3-2, in the fourth set, McEnroe bounced his racket in frustration, cracking it and ripping into a tirade of four-letter words. He was penalized a point for bouncing his racket and cursing, costing him his serve and allowing Pernfors to take a 4-2 lead.
McEnroe then asked for Farrar and demanded the decision be overturned. After a lengthy discussion, Farrar refused. As the official was walking off the court, McEnroe swore at him.
Farrar instructed Armstrong to default the match to Pernfors, moving the unseeded Swede into the quarterfinals and causing a wild scene in the stadium.
McEnroe was composed when he entered a packed news conference following the match but threatened to walk out when photographers began snapping pictures.
"I will walk out if you take photographs of me while I am talking," he said. "I have no one to blame but myself. I didn't know the rules. I thought they were different, I thought we were playing the four-step default rule as opposed to the three-step rule they are using this year.
"This is like a long story, me being defaulted in a big tournament, and it was bound to happen. I can't say I am surprised. They have written the rules for me."
Until his disqualification, McEnroe was having a solid tournament, losing only 14 games in his first three matches.
McEnroe said he knew the reason for the disqualification.
"It was a four-letter word that caused all the trouble. I was unaware it would cost me this much. It was a little four-letter word between me and two people, and they could have let me off. I think there should be more discretion.
"Pernfors could have said anything in Swedish and the people would have thought it was funny."
Although Pernfors said he was happy to win, he added he was disappointed at the way it happened.
"When they defaulted him, I went over and told him I was sorry it happened," said Pernfors, who now will meet Yannick Noah. "I don't know whether he heard me or not."
McEnroe, who had been very subdued during his first three matches, wasn't sure what it was that made him explode.
"It was frustrating out there," he said. "Things rattled me more. The balls were different. They felt totally dead today. I let little things frustrate me and it all added up."