TOKYO — Novak Djokovic’s dream of a Golden Slam ended within the early hours of one other thick evening on the Olympics, on one final searing winner off the racket of Germany’s Alexander Zverev.
Zverev stormed again from a set and a service break right down to beat Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 ranked males’s participant, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, scoring a shocking upset of an all-time nice who had appeared almost invincible these days and effectively on his strategy to pulling off a feat no male tennis participant had achieved.
Djokovic was making an attempt to win all 4 Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympic gold medal in a calendar 12 months. He had gained the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon and got here to Tokyo in search of the fourth jewel. The United States Open takes place on the finish of the summer season.
Djokovic seemed to be on cruise management when he broke Zverev’s serve to get to inside three video games of the match within the second set. Zverev swatted a ball skyward in frustration. He appeared destined to fulfill with a fast finish, like Djokovic’s first 4 victims in Tokyo.
But with little to lose, Zverev started unleashing his booming serve and establishing a collection of crushing forehands to take management, and Djokovic began inexplicably spraying his photographs off the court docket.
“Terrible, just terrible,” Djokovic mentioned, when requested how he was feeling on the finish of an evening that additionally included a loss within the combined doubles semifinal.
Djokovic tried to gradual Zverev’s momentum with an extended rest room break between the second and third units, as he has executed in tense moments prior to now. But it didn’t work and within the two-of-three-set format he didn’t have the cushion that the marathon afforded throughout Grand Slam matches, which require three of 5 units to win.
After Zverev reeled off eight consecutive video games with seeming ease, sprinting to a 4-0 lead within the deciding set, Djokovic confronted a mountain too steep to climb, regardless of a number of thrilling comebacks he had staged in the course of the first three Grand Slams this 12 months.
“It’s just sport,” Djokovic mentioned. “You got to give him credit for turning the match around. He served extremely well. I wasn’t getting too many looks on the second serve. My serve just drastically dropped. I didn’t get any free points from 3-2 up in the second set. My game fell apart.”
When his final shot flew previous Djokovic, Zverev grabbed his face with each palms in disbelief and he embraced the Serbian champion on the web.
Zverev mentioned he informed Djokovic he would go down as the best participant within the historical past of the game, that he would win probably the most Grand Slams and probably the most Masters titles and spend extra weeks because the top participant on the earth than anybody.
“I knew he was chasing a Golden Slam but you can’t win everything,” Zverev mentioned. “I told him he was the greatest player of all time, but I’m sorry.”
Then he stared on the sky questioning what he had simply achieved — the lifelong dream of successful an Olympic medal. He will play Karen Khachanov for the gold medal Sunday.
The upset was all the extra stunning as a result of Djokovic had spent the week turning into the pied piper of the Tokyo Olympics, and the technique gave the impression to be working.
After he gained the Wimbledon singles title this month, Djokovic went dwelling to Monte Carlo and turned off his telephone.
He slept. He hung out with his household, and he did some onerous interested by whether or not he wished to journey to Tokyo, with out being bombarded by messages from Serbian officers, sponsors or anybody else about what he ought to do.
After successful in entrance of crowds on the Grand Slams, he hated the thought of taking part in in almost empty stadiums in Tokyo, as required by the Japanese government in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. And he frightened that the haul to Japan and the oppressive summer season warmth may put on him down forward of the U.S. Open beginning in late August.
On the other hand, he likes to play for his nation and had a uncommon probability for a calendar-year Golden Slam. Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, Djokovic’s rivals within the males’s greatest-of-all-time race, had by no means managed it — and more than likely by no means will.
But there was one thing else concerning the Olympics that lured and energized Djokovic, who has at all times craved the adulation that Nadal and Federer have acquired.
In the Olympic Village, where Djokovic is just not staying however has eaten many meals and spent a lot of his leisure time, he turned the man to be photographed with, or break bread with, or discuss life with, or take an impromptu seminar on sports activities psychology with, or stretch and work out with. The busy social calendar has definitely not harm the in depth picture overhaul marketing campaign he has been on this 12 months.
No athlete of Djokovic’s stature threw himself into these Games as Djokovic has. Where others noticed the event as a labor, Djokovic embraced it as a break from the monotony of the tennis tour, an 11-month grind throughout which tennis gamers hardly ever get to work together with athletes from other sports activities.
On Wednesday, he even signed on to play within the combined doubles competitors with Nina Stojanovic, one thing few anticipated him to do. In reality, after dropping to Zverev, Djokovic headed virtually instantly to Court 1 for his combined doubles semifinal. He chased down balls and battled late into the evening, as he and Stojanovic misplaced to Aslan Karatsev and Elena Vesnina of Russia, 7-6 (4), 7-5.
“I’m having a lot of fun on the court and a lot of fun in the village,” Djokovic mentioned earlier within the week.
Djokovic’s merry-man of the Games play additionally served as a picture reclamation venture for him after an terrible 2020. In the spring, when the pandemic was in its first months and most sports activities have been nonetheless shut down, he hosted a tennis exhibition with a number of of his fellow gamers that turned a superspreader occasion.
He recorded and endorsed a dialogue with one in all his religious advisers, Chervin Jafarieh, in which Jafarieh spoke of how people can make polluted water and poisonous meals protected to eat by the ability of their feelings. (You can’t.)
At the U.S. Open, he swatted a ball in anger that hit a line choose within the throat accidentally. He was instantly disqualified.
During the Australian Open, he drew criticism within the nation for insisting on facilities for gamers who have been beneath onerous lockdowns due to coronavirus cases on their flights — a transfer that didn’t sit effectively in a rustic where cases have been extraordinarily low and people had hesitations about whether or not the event ought to be held at all.
But he ended up successful that event for the ninth time, then defeated Nadal on clay in Paris and has been on a Grand Slam roll not like something within the males’s recreation in a half-century.
Then, in Tokyo, he turned the man concerning the athletes’ village, doing splits with Belgian gymnasts, speaking psychological technique and buying and selling coaching suggestions with volleyball gamers from Turkey, and whooping it up with Team Serbia when a countryman gained a medal in taekwondo.
The love got here again his manner, too. Though middle court docket at Ariake Tennis Park was largely empty Friday, roughly three dozen Serbian coaches and athletes made it sound like a rock star was taking part in a small nightclub. Through a set and 5 video games, it appeared as if the assist would pull him by.
But a rolling Zverev and, maybe, the stress of what he was making an attempt to realize, in the end proved an excessive amount of, simply because it had for Naomi Osaka, the tennis star who lit the Olympic flame and had the burden of the host nation on her shoulders and misplaced her third-round match.
Zverev mentioned as he embraced Djokovic on the web, he had nothing however reward for the participant who has 20 Grand Slam titles and had a 6-2 document in opposition to him getting into the match.
“I was thinking that I had a medal for Germany,” Zverev mentioned. “This is probably the proudest moment of my career.” For Djokovic, the weekend will now deliver two bronze medal matches, disappointing consolations for per week that had been going so effectively.
“I feel terrible right now in every sense,” he mentioned. “But tomorrow hopefully is a fresh start, and I can recover and at least win one medal for my country.”