Djokovic’s Golden Slam Dream Is Ended In Tokyo

Alexander Zverev and Novak Djokovic (photo: @ITFTennis/Twitter)

TOKYO/WASHINGTON, July 30, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

World No. 1 Novak Djokovic came to Tokyo with the dream of winning an Olympic gold medal, something that has eluded him during his remarkable career. Now, after Germany’s Alexander Zverev rallied from a set and a service break down – winning 10 of the last 11 games – to beat the top-seeded Serbian 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 in the semifinals of the Olympic Tennis Event on Friday, Djokovic will have to wait a little while longer to realize his elusive Olympic dream.

On Sunday, Zverev will play for the gold medal against the Russian Olympic Committee’s Karen Khachanov, seeded 12th, who defeated No. 6 seed Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, 6-3, 6-3, in Friday’s other semifinal match on Ariake Park’s Centre Court.

“It was so important to win today because at least you know for sure that you’re guaranteed a medal, which is one of the dreams come true,” said Khachanov, who hit 10 aces and 16 winners. “But obviously, you need to find motivation and excitement, and I will try to be prepared for the final and fight for the gold.”

The No. 4 seed Zverev will have plenty of motivation on his side as he attempts to become Germany’s first Olympic singles gold medallist since Steffi Graf in 1988 and first German men’s singles champion after matching Tommy Haas, who won a silver medal at Sydney in 2000.

After securing his place in the Gold Medal Match, Zverev said: “It’s an amazing feeling, knowing that you’re going to bring the medal back to your house, back home to Germany It’s incredible beating the best player in the world undoubtedly right now, and in this season.

“It seemed it was impossible to beat him at this event, so I’m very happy right now. But there’s still one match to go.”

Zverev, who beat Djokovic for just the third time in nine meetings, hit seven aces and pounded 30 winners, and made just 14 unforced errors against Djokovic. He broke his opponent’s serve five times in nine tries. The Serbian countered with 12 winners and 16 unforced errors. Zverev, who outpointed Djokovic 83-68, is yet to lose a set through his first five matches of the Olympic Tennis Event.

“I know that he was chasing history, chasing the golden slam and was chasing the Olympics, but in these kind of moments, me and Novak are very close,” Zverev said. “Of course, I’m happy that I’ve won, but at the end of the day I know how Novak feels. I told him that he’s the greatest of all time, and he will be.”

Tough day on tennis court for Djokovic

Meanwhile, Djokovic’s third semifinal run at the Olympics ended once again in defeat. Following his tough day on the tennis court, Djokovic spoke to the Olympic Channel after he and fellow Serbian Nina Stojanovic lost their mixed doubles semifinal to the ROC’s Aslan Karatsev and Elena Vesnina, 7-6 (4), 7-5.

“It was a tough day, but that’s sports,” he said. “Playing in the Olympics and reaching the semifinals in singles and mixed doubles, you have high hopes. To win one of those two guarantees winning a medal for your country. It wasn’t meant to be today. Two very tough matches, both physically and mentally. I will try to do my best to rejuvenate for tomorrow.”

Djokovic, the world’s top-ranked player, has won 20 career Grand Slam singles titles but has never won an Olympic gold medal. He was attempting to capture all four major titles plus win the Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year, which has been achieved only by Graf in 1988. He had already won the Australian Open, Roland Garros and the Wimbledon Championships. Now, with his golden slam hopes dashed, he still has a chance to secure a couple of bronze medals for Serbia.


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When Djokovic was asked what the difference between winning and losing against Zverev was, he said: “He just upped his level. I wasn’t serving well anymore like I was the first set and a half. He didn’t miss too many first serves from 2-3 down in the second all the way to the last point. He was serving huge and taking every opportunity to attack. He was missing and didn’t give me any free points.

“That’s tennis at the highest level. It’s disappointing for me. I was in the driver’s seat for a set and a half, and a break. I have to give [Sascha] huge credit. He took it, he took the match. He took every opportunity and he deserves to win. I wish him all the best in the final.”

Later, in press, Djokovic admitted in an unfiltered tone: “Tough day, a really tough day. I feel so terrible right now. My game fell apart.”

Now, with Djokovic’s 22-match singles winning streak ended – he hadn’t lost a match since the Rome final to Rafael Nadal on May 16 – he will play Carreño Busta in Saturday’s Bronze Medal Match hoping to add to the bronze medal he won in 2008 at Beijing. Then, later on, he will return with Stojanovic to play for the bronze medal in mixed doubles against Australia’s John Peers and Ashleigh Barty.

Next month, Djokovic still has an opportunity to win the US Open which, if successful, would make him the first male player to accomplish the calendar year Grand Slam since Rod Laver in 1969.

Croatia wins gold and silver in men’s doubles

In an all-Croatia men’s doubles final, the proud Balkan country celebrated the gold medal victory of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, who triumphed over their fellow countrymen Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig, 6-4, 3-6, 10-6, in what both teams described as a “dream come true.”

“We are supper happy to win the title and super happy to be at the Olympics for the first time,” said Mektic, who along with Pavic were the top-seeded team in Tokyo and recently won this year’s Wimbledon Championships. “To have such a great result is really more than a dream come true. We are delighted, and, me personally, I’m very happy to share this moment with Mate. We’re very good friends and everything is much nicer to share with a guy like him.”

Both Cilic and Dodig were born in the same town, Medjugorje, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. By winning the silver medal, it meant that Croatia has now won five Olympic tennis medals since the sport’s return to the Olympic family in 1988 – and it was their first since Mario Ancic and Ivan Ljubicic won the doubles bronze at Athens in 2004.

“We are extremely proud to hold this medal,” said Cilic, who also competed in the singles draw. “This is something that was missing in our trophy cabinet. Me and Ivan know each other from our early days, since we started tennis. So, even to be here at the pinnacle of the sport, to play in a gold medal match at the Olympics, is a dream come true.

“It wasn’t our best day of the week, but we have to congratulate Nikola and Mate. We are still super proud, even though it’s a little bit of mixed emotions of being so close and not being able to hold the gold medal. But still, we are extremely happy. We can’t describe how important this is going to be in looking back on our careers when we’re much older.”

Mixed doubles final will feature battle of compatriots

Both ROC teams competing in Friday’s mixed doubles semifinals – Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev, and Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev – won and will play each other for Olympic gold on Sunday.

Pavlyuchenkova and Rublev came from a match point down to defeat Ashleigh Barty and John Peers of Australia, 5-7, 6-4, 13-11. Then, Vesnina and Karatsev earned a straight-set, 7-6 (4), 7-5 victory over Serbia’s Nina Stojanovic and Novak Djokovic.

Barty and Peers will face Stojanovic and Djokovic in the Bronze Medal Match on Saturday.

Friday’s Olympic tennis results

Saturday’s Olympic order of play

By the numbers

Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus became the second and third New Zealanders to win medals in tennis at the Olympic Games. The first? That would be Christchurch-born Anthony Wilding, representing Australasia at the 1912 Games in Stockholm 109 years ago.

“To follow in his footsteps, he was New Zealand’s best ever tennis player and I think he won a few Wimbledons, is surreal,” said Daniell. “It definitely hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m a bit in disbelief and I think this is going to take some weeks to process, but I couldn’t be happier.”

New Zealand’s bronze medal – Daniell and Venus beat Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren 7-6 (3), 6-2 – meant the United States didn’t win a tennis medal for the first time since the Antwerp Games in 1920 – and first time since tennis was reintroduced as an Olympic sport in 1988. The United States has won 39 Olympic tennis medals, including 25 since 1988.

“Quotable …”

“Since last year, when I had a couple of ups and downs and I dropped a little mentally, I started to work on my mindset, my mentality. Mentality means different things for different parts of the match – how do you approach those kinds of circumstances, those kinds of situations, and how you deal with them. I started to work on this part and I’m really happy that it’s paying off.

“At the end of the day, your strokes are there, you’ve been practicing tennis all your life – you cannot forget how to play tennis. But how you use your shots, in which moments, and how you deal with pressure, this is one of the most important things. This match today was very important for my head.”

Karen Khachanov, on mental toughness. He will play Alexander Zverev for the men’s singles gold medal on Sunday.

“We’re a proud sporting country. A small country but we love our sports. Both of us grew up watching the Olympics, it’s the pinnacle of the events in New Zealand. To see all the great athletes before us come here and compete and win medals … just firstly to be part of the team here, and to get to know the other athletes and their stories was very special. To win a medal on top of that … it’s just unbelieavable. I’m super happy and proud of us.”

Michael Venus of New Zealand, on what it means for him and Marcus Daniell to win an Olympic bronze medal.