Djokovic’s Golden dream ends but US Open – and history – beckons

An exhausted Novak Djokovic hit the wall in Tokyo on Friday but don’t be surprised to see him bounce back in style at the US Open when he will try to complete the coveted calendar-year Grand Slam

Novak Djokovic

So there will be no Golden Slam for Novak Djokovic.

The world No 1’s 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 defeat by Germany’s Alexander Zverev on Friday means that Steffi Graf remains the only player, man or woman, to win the calendar-year Grand Slam of all four majors and the Olympics in the same year.

It will, of course, be a bitter pill for Djokovic to swallow. After winning bronze in 2008, losing the bronze medal match in 2012 and going out in round one in 2016, the 34-year-old had set his heart on winning that elusive Olympic gold.

And he had looked imperious on his way to the semi-finals, only to run into an inspired Zverev and perhaps, the wall as his spirit, so often the difference between victory and defeat, gave out.

“He played better,” Djokovic told reporters. “You’ve got to give him credit for turning the match around. He served extremely well. I was not getting too many looks at the second serve. My serve just drastically dropped. I didn’t get any free points from 3-2 up in the second. My game fell apart.”

Olympics loss could inspire US Open win

There’s no question that playing in the Olympics in the first place was a huge effort for Djokovic after what’s already been an intense year.

Victory at the Australian Open set things rolling but his win at Roland-Garros took an enormous physical effort while he won a sixth Wimbledon title a month after, seeing off his rivals without ever hitting his peak, but through his incredible mental strength.

Winning Olympic gold, with the added complication of heat and humidity which made life difficult for everyone, eventually proved to be a bridge too far. In part, it was the brilliance of Zverev on the day but when he tried to dig deep, for once Djokovic had nothing left.

And yet, perhaps his defeat in Tokyo – and the disappointment of not winning an elusive Olympic gold medal – will be the inspiration he needs to push his body and mind one more time to win the US Open and do what no man has achieved since Rod Laver in 1969.

Novak Djokovic after his defeat by Alexander Zverev / AI / Reuters / Panoramic

Djokovic an inspiration to others in Tokyo

Djokovic’s appearance at the Olympics had been in doubt when organisers announced that there would be no fans in Tokyo because of rising Covid-19 numbers and fears about the spread of the disease.

Not knowing if he would be able to enjoy the whole experience, as he did in 2008, 2012 and 2016, mixing with other athletes and supporting the Serbia team, left him unsure of whether he should play.

Ultimately, the lure of Olympic gold drew him to Japan and he seems to have had his photo taken with more athletes of all sports than anyone else at the Games while he’s also been posting videos of things behind the scenes.

One last effort for a medal (or two)

Before leaving Tokyo, though, he will have to raise himself again to play two bronze medal matches, first in the singles against Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain, and then, in the mixed doubles, partnering Nina Stojanovic against the Australian pair of women’s world No 1 Ash Barty and John Peers.

“Let’s see,” he said. “I feel terrible right now. Tomorrow hopefully fresh start, recover, and at least win one medal for my country.”

Maybe his energy was drained by the whole experience, maybe it helped him get as far as he did. Only he will know.

But don’t be surprised if Djokovic shows up in New York next month ready to go again, with the Grand Slam as the goal he needs to get every ounce of energy out of himself one more time.

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