Novak Djokovic’s dream of a Golden Slam is over.
Alexander Zverev of Germany stormed back from a set and a service break down to beat Djokovic, the world’s No. 1 ranked men’s player, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, in the semifinal of the Olympic tournament.
Djokovic was attempting to win all four Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympic gold medal in a calendar year. He had won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon and came to Tokyo looking for the fourth jewel. The United States Open takes place at the end of the summer.
Djokovic appeared to be on cruise control when be broke Zverev’s serve to get to within three games of the match in the second set. Zverev swatted a ball through the stadium roof in frustration and looked destined to meet with a quick end like Djokovic’s first four victims in Tokyo. He had not lost a set at the Olympics and said he was getting better with each match.
But with little to lose, Zverev began unleashing his booming serve and setting up a crushing forehand to take control of the match, just as Djokovic started inexplicably spraying his shots off the court.
Zverev said he felt that even though he was down in the match he did not feel like he was playing poorly. Rather, he was playing Djokovic’s game, getting into rallies with him instead of swinging through the ball and using his superior power to control the points.
With the flick of a switch, Zverev had Djokovic on his heels, pushing him farther and farther into the back of the court.
Djokovic tried to slow Zverev’s momentum with a long bathroom break between the second and third set, as he has done in tense moments in the past, but it didn’t work, and in the two-of-three set format he did not have the cushion afforded by the format of three-of-five set matches at Grand Slam tournaments.
After Zverev reeled off seven consecutive games with seeming ease, sprinting to 4-0 lead in the deciding set, Djokovic faced a mountain too difficult even for a player who had already staged several stunning comebacks in the first three Grand Slams this year.
As a final insult, Zverev broke Djokovic’s serve for a third time in the last set to take the match. He grabbed his face in disbelief and embraced the Serbian champion at the net when it was over, then stared at the sky wondering what had just happened.
“I was thinking that I had a medal for Germany and this is probably the proudest moment of my career,” Zverev said. “The Olympics is the biggest sporting event in the world.”
Zverev said as he embraced Djokovic at the net, he had nothing but praise for the player who has 20 Grand Slam titles and had a 6-2 record against him entering the match. He told him that he would go down as the greatest player in the history of the sport, that he would win the most Grand Slams, and the most Masters titles and spend more weeks as the top player in the world than anyone.
“I knew he was chasing a Golden Slam but you can’t win everything,” Zverev said. “I told him he was the greatest player of all time, but I’m sorry.”
Djokovic skipped the post-match press availability to cool off and prepare for his mixed doubles semifinal with Nina Stojanovic, which was scheduled for Friday night. He is scheduled to play Pablo Carreño Busta in the bronze medal match on Saturday.