RIO DE JANEIRO • Novak Djokovic was reduced to tears after suffering a shock first-round 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (7-2) defeat by Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro in the men's Olympic tennis tournament on Sunday.
The world No. 1 had made it a priority to win an Olympic gold medal, the only major prize to elude him.
"No doubt this is one of the toughest losses in my life and in my career," the distraught Serbian said. "It's not easy to handle, especially now, just after the wounds are still fresh."
After winning this year's Australian and French titles, he was the favourite to add Olympic gold to his 12 Grand Slam titles. But del Potro was as surprised as anyone to see the Serb go out.
"I didn't expect to beat Novak tonight," said the 2009 US Open champion, who has been battling a wrist injury for much of the season and is ranked 141st in the world. "But I played an amazing match, my forehand worked great."
The 27-year-old Argentinian crunched 29 forehand winners in comparison to just seven by Djokovic, who lost a third-place match to del Potro at the London Olympics four years ago.
Del Potro, who was once ranked No. 4 in the world, said the performance gave him hope of fully overcoming his injury nightmare.
"I felt once again I had the capability to play against the best in the world," he said.
The two men, who are also friends, were both visibly emotional and shared a warm embrace over the net at the end of the match.
"This kind of atmosphere I experience a few times in my life, mostly when I'm in my country. This felt like I was in my country. This felt like I was Brazilian," said Djokovic.
The Serb will partner Nenad Zimonjic against Brazilian duo Marcelo Melo and Bruno Soares in a second-round men's doubles match this morning (Singapore time).
Djokovic will be 33 by the time of the Tokyo 2020 Games, meaning the Rio doubles could be his best hope of winning Olympic gold.
In another major surprise of the Olympic tennis tournament, Venus and Serena Williams were upset 6-3, 6-4 in the women's doubles on Sunday by the Czech team of Barbora Strycova and Lucie Safarova.
The loss, which came in the first round, was the Williams sisters' first in Olympic competition. They won the doubles gold medal in 2000, 2008 and 2012.
Their surprise defeat came against a Czech team who had never won a match together.
The defeat left Venus, 36, staring at the end of her 16-year, five-Olympics journey. A day earlier she was knocked out of the singles in her first opening-round Olympic loss.
Younger sibling Serena, 34, the defending champion in the singles, defeated Australia's Daria Gavrilova 6-4, 6-2 and faces Alize Cornet, the Frenchwoman who defeated her three times in 2014, including at Wimbledon.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE