Tokyo 2020: Novak Djokovic returns empty-handed from Olympics
- Eyeing a gold medal and a Golden Slam, Novak Djokovic is leaving Tokyo without a medal of any kind and the confidence of completing a Calendar Slam slightly shaken.
There’s something about the recent battles between Novak Djokovic and Pablo Carreno Busta. They evoke drama. They produce emotions. They hold significance.
In New York in September 2020, when the two met at the US Open, the Serb struck the line judge unintentionally with a ball in a moment of rage. He was disqualified. In Tokyo in July 2021, in multiple moments of frustration, he flung his racquet in the stands and also into the net. An exhausted Djokovic exited the Olympics with a defeat in the bronze medal match.
The world No. 1 came to Tokyo eyeing a gold medal and a Golden Slam. He is leaving Tokyo without a medal of any kind and the confidence of completing a Calendar Slam slightly shaken.
A racquet-smashing Djokovic lost to the Spaniard 4-6, 7-6(6), 3-6 in the men's singles bronze medal encounter on Saturday. Shortly after that, he pulled out of the mixed doubles bronze medal tie with partner Nina Stojanovic citing a shoulder injury. Australia's Ashley Barty and John Peers were awarded the medal. All of this came a day after Djokovic saw his year-long dream of becoming the first man to achieve the Golden Slam - winning all four Grand Slams and an Olympic gold in the same year - turn into a nightmare from being a set and a break up against Alexander Zverev in the semi-final.
The last time Djokovic lost two singles matches in a row was in November 2019 in the round robin stage of the ATP Finals. The last time Djokovic won a medal at the Olympics was a bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games, losing to Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro in London. In Rio he was out in the first round.
In Tokyo, he also lost a significant volume of energy. In the taxing heat that forced the start of tennis matches to be pushed back, Djokovic also signed up to play mixed doubles. The 34-year-old played two matches on Wednesday, two on Thursday and two on Friday. Djokovic looked spent, emotionally and physically, towards the end of his match against Carreno Busta. The US Open - where Djokovic will bid to complete a Calendar Slam after winning the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon this year - begins in less than a month. And his Tokyo experience has the potential to derail that as well.
“The consequences physically, hopefully, will not create a problem for me for the US Open, but that's something that I'm not sure about right now," Djokovic told reporters after the match.
After tying Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal at 20 Grand Slams at Wimbledon, this was meant to be Djokovic’s year. This was also meant to be Djokovic’s Olympics, and it looked every bit like one. The Serb was the cynosure of all eyes in the Games Village - clicking selfies with athletes (ask most of the Indians), working on his splits with Belgian gymnasts, cheering the loudest for his fellow Serb competitors with the entire contingent watching together on TV.
“I don’t regret coming to (the) Olympics at all,” Djokovic said.