Olympics: Novak Djokovic downed by Alexander Zverev in men's tennis semi-final upset

Novak Djokovic during his Olympics semi-final defeat by Alexander Zverev of Germany at Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 30, 2021.
Novak Djokovic during his Olympics semi-final defeat by Alexander Zverev of Germany at Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo on July 30, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS, AFP) - Novak Djokovic was beaten 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 by Germany's Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals of the men's singles at the Tokyo Olympic Games on Friday (July 30), dashing the Serb's dream of winning his first singles gold medal and completing a Golden Slam.

His second chance to win a gold medal also evaporated later at night, as he and Nina Stojanovic lost their mixed doubles semi-final to Russians Aslan Karatsev and Elena Vesnina 7-6 (7-4), 7-5.

The 34-year-old world No. 1 had been aiming to become the first man to win all four majors and Olympic gold in the same calendar year, matching the feat German Steffi Graf achieved in 1988.

He collapsed from a set and a break ahead as the German fourth seed recovered strongly to set up a Sunday final against Russian Karen Khachanov.

The usually impregnable Serbian star's attempt to make history came to a close as Zverev powered 30 winners past him in a stunning display.

“I feel sorry for Novak, but he’s won 20 Grand Slams, 500 (36) Masters series or whatever, you can’t have everything,” said Zverev, who consoled Djokovic at the net after the match.

“He’s the greatest player of all time, he will win the most Grand Slams out of anybody on tour, but I’m also happy that I’m in the final.”

It was yet more heartbreak for the 20-time Grand Slam champion at the Olympics, where his best result is a bronze medal in 2008 in Beijing.

He lost to eventual winner Andy Murray in the semi-finals in London nine years ago, and was in tears after a first-round exit to Juan Martin del Potro at the 2016 Rio Games.

Zverev is looking to become the first German to win singles gold since Graf in Seoul, after winning 10 of the last 11 games against Djokovic.

"You’re not only playing for yourself, you are playing for the whole country, for the people here, for everybody watching and supporting you,” he added.

“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you’re going to bring the medal back to your house, back home to Germany.

“It’s incredible beating the best player in the world undoubtedly right now and in this season.”

Earlier on Friday, 25th-ranked Khachanov outgunned Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-3 with his trademark power-hitting.

The Russian, who made the Wimbledon quarter-finals earlier this month, described the match as a highlight of a memorable summer.

“I play tennis for those moments, I practise for these kind of matches and when you get there, when it’s paying off, it’s just a pure pleasure to be here...,” he said.

“(It’s) the kind of memories that will stay forever.”

Karatsev and Vesnina will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev in an all-Russian final on Sunday after their compatriots beat women’s world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and John Peers in the first semi-final.

A tight first set was taken on a tie-break by Vesnina and Karatsev, but Djokovic and Stojanovic looked poised to force a deciding breaker after moving 4-2 ahead in the second. But Stojanovic was broken in the eighth game and then again, to love, in game 12, with Djokovic bunting a difficult volley long on the first match point.

Djokovic, who won singles bronze in 2008, will play two bronze-medal matches on Saturday, against Carreno Busta in the singles before he and Stojanovic take on Australia’s Barty and Peers.