With his Golden Slam bid over for at least another three years, Novak Djokovic rested his head on Alexander Zverev’s shoulder as his German opponent and friend consoled him.
“I told him that he’s the greatest of all time,” Zverev said. “I know that he was chasing history.”
Djokovic, the top-ranked Serb who had seemed invincible in all of the biggest tournaments this year, lost to Zverev 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 Friday in the semifinals of the tennis tournament at the Tokyo Olympics.
Djokovic was attempting to become the first man to win all four Grand Slam tournaments and Olympic gold in the same year. He won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon this year and needed the Olympic and U.S. Open titles to complete the Golden Slam collection.
Steffi Graf in 1988 remains the only tennis player to achieve the Golden Slam.
“He won 20 Grand Slams,” Zverev said. “So you can’t have everything.
“At the end of the day he’s the greatest 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 longest at the world No. 1, and I’m sure 99% that this is the case when it’s all said and done,” Zverev said.
Zverev’s opponent in the gold-medal match will be Karen Khachanov. The Russian beat Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain 6-3, 6-3.
Djokovic, who hadn’t lost since getting beaten by Rafael Nadal at the Italian Open final 2½ months ago, will play Carreno Busta for bronze.
On a humid and muggy evening, Djokovic committed a series of uncharacteristic errors after a strong start as the 6-foot-6 Zverev started to win free points with his big serve.
Djokovic was up a set and a break in the second before Zverev won 10 of the final 11 games.
“He’s gone these last few months without any losses and for him it’s a big loss … just collapsing in the end,” said Marin Cilic of Croatia, who won silver in doubles.
Cilic noted that the extreme heat and humidity at the Ariake Tennis Park throughout the tournament may have caught up with Djokovic.
“It’s very unfortunate for him but still he’s an unbelievable champion and he still has so many years ahead of him to achieve many great things,” Cilic said.
When Zverev hit a backhand winner down the line that Djokovic didn’t move for to close it out, Djokovic walked to the net where he received a warm hug from Zverev as the pair exchanged some words.
“Of course I’m happy that I’ve won, but in the end of the day I also know (how) he feels,” Zverev said.
Djokovic’s only Olympic medal was bronze in singles at the 2008 Beijing Games — his first. He could still win a gold at the Tokyo Games in mixed doubles.
Djokovic came back on the court little more than an hour later to play with Serbian partner Nina Stojanovic in the mixed doubles semifinals and lost that match, too, getting beaten by the Russian duo of Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev 7-6 (4), 7-5.
It was the third consecutive day that Djokovic played two matches.
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.