With his Golden Slam bid for at least three more years, Novak Djokovic rested his head on Alexander Zverev’s shoulder as his German opponent and friend consoled him.
“I told him he is the best of all time,” Zverev said. “I know he chased history.”
Djokovic, the highest-ranking Serb who appeared invincible in all of the biggest tournaments this year, lost 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 to Zverev in the semifinals of the tennis tournament at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.
Djokovic sought to become the first man to win all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold in the same year. He won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year and needed the Olympic and US Open titles to complete the Golden Slam collection.
Steffi Graf remains the only tennis player to win the Golden Slam in 1988.
“He won 20 Grand Slams,” Zverev said. “So you can’t have everything.
“In the end he’s the best of all time because he’s going to win the most Grand Slams, he’s going to win the most Master Series, he’s going to be the tallest on the No. 1 in the world and I’m 99% sure that’s the case if anything said and done,” Zverev said.
Zverev on the net. “You are one of the best players of all time. I’m sorry about this.”
Djokovic very graceful in defeat as always. It was a beautiful moment. pic.twitter.com/mgHOtRkBYK
— Jose Morgado (@josemorgado) July 30, 2021
Zverev’s opponent in the gold medal match is Karen Khachanov. The Russian defeated Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-3.
Djokovic, who hadn’t lost since he was beaten 2½ months ago by Rafael Nadal in the final of the Italian Open, will face Carreno Busta for bronze.
Zverev’s great service
On a damp and muggy evening, Djokovic made a series of unusual errors after a strong start as the 1.98m Zverev started winning free points with his big serve.
Djokovic led a set and a break in the second before Zverev won 10 of the last 11 games.
“He has gone away without losses for the past few months and for him it is a big loss … to finally collapse,” said Marin Cilic of Croatia, who won silver in doubles.
Cilic noted that the extreme heat and humidity in the Ariake Tennis Park throughout the tournament may have caught up with Djokovic.
“It is very unfortunate for him, but he is still an incredible champion and he still has so many years ahead of him to achieve many great things,” Cilic said.
When Zverev hit a backhand winner along the line that Djokovic didn’t move to close it, Djokovic walked over to the net where he received a warm hug from Zverev as the pair exchanged some words.
“Of course I’m happy that I won, but in the end I also know (how) he feels,” Zverev said.
Djokovic’s only Olympic medal was bronze in singles at the 2008 Beijing Games – his first.
Mixed Double Loss
Djokovic returned to the field just over an hour later to play with Serbian partner Nina Stojanovic in the mixed doubles semifinals, also losing that match by being defeated by Russian duo Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev 7- 6(4), 7-5.
It was the third consecutive day that Djokovic played two games.
Viktor Troicki, the coach of the Serbian Olympic team, told the Associated Press on Thursday that the entire team was up against Djokovic and playing mixed doubles because they didn’t want the event to tire him with so much at stake in singles.
Djokovic can still go after the Grand Slam of the calendar year by winning the US Open – something no one has achieved since Rod Laver in 1969.
The 34-year-old Djokovic is already the first man since Laver that year to win the first three major tournaments in a season.
Djokovic also equaled all his old rivals Roger Federer and Nadal by winning Wimbledon this month for his 20th Grand Slam title. He was the only member of the Big Three to travel to Tokyo and Djokovic has immersed himself in the OIympic experience like few other athletes.
Without Djokovic, however, the gold medal match in singles lacks star power. Zverev’s best career result was reaching the final of last year’s US Open, while the 25th-ranked Khachanov has a quarter-final at Wimbledon and is now in the biggest final of his career.
Zverev called it “perhaps the proudest moment of my career so far.
“Because I don’t just play for myself, I don’t just play for my parents, for my brother, for my family,” he added. “But I also play for everyone, all the (German) athletes here at the base and everyone at home watching.”
In the men’s doubles, the best seeded pair of Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic defeated Cilic and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 in an all-Croatian final. It was Croatia’s first gold and first silver in Olympic tennis, having previously won bronze three times.
The New Zealand team of Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus took bronze by beating Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren of the United States 7-6 (3), 6-2.
Daniell and Venus became the first New Zealand players to medal in tennis since 1912, when Anthony Wilding took bronze in singles while representing Australasia. Wilding, New Zealand’s only Grand Slam singles champion with six titles, was killed in World War I in 1915 at the age of 31.