Novak Djokovic’s application for a Golden Grand Slam in the calendar was dramatically ended on Friday by Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals of the men’s Olympic singles. World number one collapsed after a set and a break when German fourth-placed Zverev won 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 to prepare for a Sunday final against Russian Karen Khachanov. The 34-year-old Djokovic has never won the individual Olympic title. The Serbian star had already won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon trophies this year and needed Olympic gold and the US Open crown to emulate Steffi Graf, who achieved the feat in 1988 by winning the Golden Slam.
But his attempt to make history ended when Zverev drove 30 winners past the normally impregnable Djokovic in a breathtaking performance.
It was even more heartbreak for the 20-time Grand Slam winner at the Olympic Games, where his best result in 2008 is a bronze medal.
He lost nine years ago in the semi-finals in London to eventual winner Andy Murray and cried after being eliminated in the first round against Juan Martin del Potro at the 2016 Rio Games.
Zverev wants to be the first German since Graf to win gold in singles in Seoul after winning 10 of the last 11 games against Djokovic.
Djokovic starts quickly
Djokovic, cheered on by a large line-up of his Serbian Olympic team-mates, took the first set in typical fashion by winning the most big points.
The score made it look nice, but he was tackled in his first three service games and had to save an early breakpoint.
Zverev put Djokovic’s serve under pressure again in the early stages of the second set, but the top seed wriggled out of trouble in the fourth game and broke out in the next.
Zverev threw a simple volley into the net at the breakpoint and pounded the ball into the empty stands in frustration.
That seemed like the last nail in his coffin, but the 24-year-old immediately recovered with a break in love when Djokovic played an atypically flawed game at a crucial point.
The momentum had suddenly swung in Zverev’s favor and he quickly collapsed again before taking his second setpoint to force a decision with a series of four games in a row.
Any thoughts that Zverev would feel the tension were dispelled in the opening game of the third set when he broke again.
He dug deep to cement his breakthrough, making six games in a row, saving four breakpoints, the third of which ended with a backhand pass that shot over the line after a jaw-dropping rally.
That was the decisive moment when Zverev then set foot in the final with a double break, whereupon Djokovic reacted angrily after a long basic blow.
He ended up on an eight-game streak of bad luck, but his Olympic dream was already in tatters and Zverev secured last place on his second match point with a scratchy backhand.
Djokovic could still win several medals, with the bronze match against Pablo Carreno Busta on Saturday after his mixed doubles semi-final with Nina Stojanovic against Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev later on Friday.
Khachanov sees Carreno Busta
Khachanov, a former top 10 player who has fought for consistency over the past three seasons, has previously shown an impressive performance, beating Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-3.
Khachanov wants to become the first Russian master in men’s singles since Yevgeny Kafelnikov won gold in Sydney 21 years ago.
“It’s just pure happiness, joy to be here to experience these moments, these types of memories will last forever,” said the 25-year-old, who reached the Wimbledon quarter-finals earlier this month.
Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus became New Zealand’s first Olympic tennis medalists in 109 years, defeating the Americans Austin Krajicek and Tennys Sandgren 7-6 (7/3), 6-2 in the men’s double bronze match.
The third and final attempt by the women’s world number one Ashleigh Barty to win a gold medal came to an end after losing to John Peers in the mixed doubles semi-finals against Russians Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev.
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