A sad ending to Novak Djokovic’s quest for a 'Golden Slam'

With many big names pulling out of the Tokyo Olympics, the Serbian was expected to walk away with the gold medal, but Alexander Zverev had other ideas.

Novak Djokovic in action at Tokyo Olympics; Credit: Twitter

Novak Djokovic was having arguably the best season of his career, with everything he touched turning to gold in this calendar year. Until this year, he had never won the first three Grand Slams of a season. The 34-year-old Serbian arrived in the Japanese capital after bagging his sixth Wimbledon men’s singles title recently. With a victory over Italian Matteo Berrettini at The Championships final, Djokovic has matched the Grand Slam tally (20) of his great rivals – Switzerland’s Roger Federer and Spain’s Rafael Nadal.

The Serbian, who has already clinched his ninth Australian Open crown in February and a second Roland Garros title last month, has a good chance of claiming the calendar-year Grand Slam, with only US Open left. At the start of the Olympics, Novak Djokovic also kept alive the opportunity to become the first man to ever complete a Golden Grand Slam. Back in 1988, legendary female tennis player Steffi Graf won an Olympic gold medal and all four majors that year. No other player has come close to matching that feat up to this point.

Djokovic’s incredible run of winning the first three Grand Slams, fortunately, came in an Olympic year. It felt like the stars were aligned in the Serbian’s favour. His performances in the Tokyo Olympics were equally impressive until Friday. The 34-year-old did not lose a single set en route to the semifinal as he dispatched his opponents with relative ease. After his rivals, Federer and Nadal, withdrew from the Olympics, World No.2 Daniil Medvedev’s shock exit in the quarterfinals may have only made the Serb’s job easier.

‘Golden Slam’ eludes Novak Djokovic

Talk about meant to be! All the odds were stacked in favour of Novak Djokovic to make the impossible possible. The universe seemed to be rooting for the Serbian to become the first male tennis player to win the improbable “Golden Slam.” But a 24-year-old German had other plans. Alexander Zverev surrendered the first set 1-6 as the Serbian had one foot in the final. But what happened next was difficult to comprehend.

The German tennis star regrouped and brought back his ‘A-Game,’ winning the next two sets and losing only four games in the process. World No.1 Novak Djokovic is out and his dream of a ‘Golden Slam’ vanished along with him. As for Zverev is concerned, he could not have asked for any more in his maiden Olympics. With the top seed out of the way, the 24-year-old will be battling Karen Khachanov for the gold medal.

The background

Novak Djokovic started the year with 17 Grand Slam titles to his name. He was within three Slam triumphs of his greatest rivals, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. The first major of the year was his personal favourite – the Australian Open. The Serbian entered the tournament as a favourite and maintained that status throughout the two weeks he was in Melbourne.

In a lop-sided final, the World No. 1 crushed an in-form Medvedev 7-5, 6-2, 6-2 in under two hours to clinch his 18th major title. It was also his record ninth Australian Open crown. The stage was set for the Serbian to dominate the season. His form, however, was indifferent in the next few weeks. Then came Roland Garros.

It goes without saying that Rafael Nadal is the clear-cut favourite at French Open. The Spaniard played like a champion from the onset, while Djokovic grew into the tournament as the Grand Slam progressed. The French Open draw put Nadal and Djokovic on a collision course in the semifinals.

Novak Djokovic slayed the ‘King of Clay’

The World No.1 Serbian fought back from a set deficit to beat the ‘King of Clay’ – Rafael Nadal – in four grueling sets to reach the final. “[It was] definitely the best match that I was ever part of [at] Roland Garros, and [it was among the] top three matches that I’ve ever played in my entire career,” Djokovic said after the game. But he still had to play one more match and it was against Greek sensation Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Exhausted from his high-octane semifinal victory, the Serbian took time to get into his rhythm. By then, Tsitsipas was already two sets up. Undeterred by the enormity of the task at hand, Novak Djokovic staged an incredible comeback to win his second Roland Garros title. With the win, Djokovic achieved a historic milestone, becoming the first male player in the Open Era and only the third man in history to win the career Grand Slam twice.

Wimbledon was next. With Nadal pulling out of the Grand Slam and Roger Federer struggling to match his usual heights, Djokovic was expected to go all the way, which he duly did. The Serbian came back from a set down to beat Matteo Berrettini in the final to keep his quest for an unlikely ‘Golden Slam’ alive. Unfortunately, Novak Djokovic’s defeat to Zverev on Friday means he may have to settle for a calendar-year Grand Slam. Winning four Grand Slams in the same year is no easy feat, and it will be more than enough motivation for the Serbian to give his all in the season’s final Grand Slam – US Open.




WRITTEN BY
Karthik Raman

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