TOKYO - Novak Djokovic was bothered by the extreme heat and humidity of Tokyo, but above all by the absence of spectators in the stadiums of the Olympic Games. If he traveled to Japan it was out of ambition, to add one more brick to the building he seeks to construct, one taller than Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He wanted the Golden Slam.
It will not be possible. The defeat of the Serb in the semifinals of Tokyo 2020 against German Alexander Zverev, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1, confirms how extremely complex it is to thread the four major tennis tournaments and the Olympic gold in the same year.
“I feel so terrible right now, can’t be positive right now,” said Djokovic, who will play Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta in Saturday’s bronze medal match.
“I don’t know I feel terrible... in every sense, but tomorrow hopefully, a fresh start. I can recover and at least win one medal for my country”, the Serbian added.
Tokyo 2020 marked, in fact, the first opportunity since tennis returned as an Olympic sport in 1988 that the Golden Slam was possible for a men. No one came to Seoul 88, Barcelona 92, Atlanta 96, Sydney 2000, Athens 2004, Beijing 2008, London 2012 and Rio 2016 with all the major titles of the season under their belt.
Djokovic yes, the Serb won in this 2021 the three Grand Slam tournaments disputed. If he added the gold in Beijing, the US Open in New York would open him the possibility of doing among men what only one person achieved so far, the German Steffi Graf in Seoul 88.
The conquest of the Grand Slam - the four major tournaments in the same season - is something that tennis has not seen since the Australian Rod Laver did it for the second time in 1969. Djokovic is still in the running for that feat.
The Serb, who has not won Olympic gold so far, unlike Nadal (in the singles at Beijing 2008) and Federer (in the doubles at the same Games with Stanislas Wawrinka), still had the chance to do so, but in mixed doubles. Together with his partner Nina Stojanovic he reached the semifinals, but both were defeated today 7-6 (7-4) and 7-5 by the Russian pair Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev. Thus, this weekend Djokovic will fight for two medals, but bronze.
The next goal of the world tennis number one is the conquest of the US Open in mid-September, a tournament that could break the exciting duel of Grand Slam titles he is fighting with Federer and Nadal: the three of them have 20, more than any other player in history.