Olympics: Zverev dissolves Djokovic Golden Slam for final shot

 - Alex Sharp

Tokyo 2020 witnessed the first gold medals of the Games on a significant day in Japan, where the men’s singles final duel was confirmed.

Alexander Zverev / Tokyo 2020©Kopatsch/Sato/Sidorjak

So much of the conversation surrounding tennis at Tokyo 2020 has been consumed with Novak Djokovic’s calendar Golden Slam pursuit. Not anymore.

A frantic Friday saw history for Croatia, mixed delight for Russia alongside the seismic shock in the men’s singles.

Here is a round-up of the absorbing action from the Ariake Tennis Park.

Zverev comeback strides towards gold

A set up with a 3-2 break lead on the scoreboard, it seemed to be following the script. World No.1 Novak Djokovic, chasing an elusive Olympics gold medal, appeared in cruise control.

22 straight match wins, including the Roland-Garros and Wimbledon trophies, pointed to the top seed soaring into the final.

No. 4 seed Alexander Zverev tore up the script and won 10 of the last 11 games to clinch an astonishing 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 turn around.

Considering the magnitude of the occasion and what Djokovic had on the line, it was a look of pure disbelief from the world No.5 after the handshake.

“It’s the biggest sporting event in the world and I beat a man who this year it seems impossible to beat at the big events. He’s the greatest player of all time and I’m sure he’ll undoubtedly be that even more in the future. I’m very happy right now. But there's still one match to go,” declared the 24-year-old, the first German man into the Olympics singles final since silver medallist Tommy Haas at Sydney 2000.

“Also, playing here, not only for myself, for my country, for everyone involved, everybody at home, everybody cheering us on here in the house. We’ve got an amazing group of athletes here. Bringing a medal back to our house here at campus and also back to Germany is one of the biggest achievements of my career.”

Down 2-3 in that second set, Zverev flicked the switch, stepping in, striking with purpose and risk, sensing an incrementally weary Djokovic was running low on resources. The top seed persisted with sprinkling in serve and volleys, Zverev picked off a handful of cracking passes. Djokovic was over twisting, increasingly desperate to find an alternative answer, whereas Zverev was going from strength to strength on the front foot and boosted by some lethal serving.

“I just told myself I’m going to swing. Before I was trying to play nice tennis, to outlast Novak, which you can’t really do on a hard court, especially when he’s playing well,” added the German, inflicting a third Olympics singles semi-final defeat on Djokovic.

“So after that I thought I’m going to use my power even more and hit the ball as hard as I can. It worked out well.”

Djokovic, succinctly describing it as, “a really tough day. I feel so terrible right now.” It’s time to regroup for the US Open next month and a very possible calendar Grand Slam.

Khachanov finds his calling


Until Friday, world No.25 Karen Khachanov hadn’t reached a final since he blazed to the title at the Rolex Paris Masters in 2018.

Now, the 25-year-old is guaranteed gold or silver after his ferocious firepower earned an Olympics final spot 6-3, 6-3 over Pablo Carreno Busta.

“It was so important to win today because at least you know for sure that you’re guaranteed a medal, which is one of the dreams come true,” revealed the Russian. “But obviously, you need to find motivation and excitement, and I will try to be prepared for the final and fight for the gold.”

Since his Bercy brilliance in 2018, Khachanov has fluctuated in form, but work off court has born fruition this summer.

“Since last year, when I had a couple of ups and downs and I dropped a little mentally, I started to work on my mindset, my mentality. Mentality means different things for different parts of the match – how do you approach those kinds of circumstances, those kinds of situations, and how you deal with them. I started to work on this part and I’m really happy that it’s paying off,” continued the Russian Wimbledon quarter-finalist, level 2-2 in clashes with final opponent Zverev.

“At the end of the day, your strokes are there, you’ve been practising tennis all your life – you cannot forget how to play tennis. But how you use your shots, in which moments, and how you deal with pressure, this is one of the most important things. This match today was very important for my head.”

Dreamland for Croatia and ROC


Top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic won the opening gold medals of Tokyo 2020.

The Croatians sealed a match tie-break triumph over compatriots Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 to collect a ninth title of a stellar opening season as a team.

It was a memorable day for the red, white and blue of Croatia, taking their first ever gold and silver tennis medals.

“We are super happy to win the title and super happy to be at the Olympics for the first time,” stated Mektic. “To have such a great result is really more than a dream come true. We are delighted, and, me personally, I’m very happy to share this moment with Mate. We’re very good friends and everything is much nicer to share with a guy like him.”

Meanwhile in the mixed doubles, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev fended off match point to book a mixed doubles final ticket. The duo squeezed past Australians Ashleigh Barty & John Peers 5-7, 6-4, 13-11.

They’ll shoot for gold facing fellow ROC athletes Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev, who toppled Nina Stojanovic and Djokovic 7-6(4), 7-5.