Novak Djokovic will leave the Tokyo Olympics without a medal after falling in the men’s bronze medal match 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 to Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain, capping a painful 24 hours during which he lost three matches before giving a walkover in the mixed doubles bronze medal match to Ashleigh Barty and John Peers.
Djokovic, whose schedule has been packed after wins at the French Open and Wimbledon before travelling to the Olympics, said that he does not regret travelling to Tokyo in search of the “golden slam”.
“I believe there is no coincidence in life, everything happens for a reason,” he said. “I had some heartbreaking losses at Olympic Games and some big tournaments in my career, and I know that those losses have usually made me stronger.”
With a chuckle, Djokovic said he “will try to keep going for the Paris Olympic Games” but he was cautious about his health ahead of the US Open as he attempts to complete a sweep of all four grand slam titles in 2021. After citing a shoulder injury in his withdrawal, Djokovic was visibly laboured as he walked away from the mixed zone.
“I gave it all – whatever I had left in the tank, which was not so much,” he said. “I felt it out on the court. The consequences physically hopefully will not create a problem for me for the US Open. That’s something that I’m not sure about right now. But I’m not regretting giving it all because when you play for your country that’s necessary.”
Across the net, his opponent’s effort was a defining factor of the match. Carreño Busta established an early lead, recovered after failing to convert match point in the second set tiebreak and then he rode out his nerves a long, tight game at the close.
His resilience left its mark on Djokovic, who threw a racket into the stands before destroying another in the third set. While the Serb is often able to channel his anger into focused tennis, this time it made little difference to his level of play. “It’s tense on the court,” he said. “In the heat of the battle. It’s not the first time and not the last time probably. It’s not nice of course but it’s part of, I guess, who I am. I don’t like doing these things.”
For Carreño Busta, this result was further evidence that he is in the form of his life. Over the 12 months since the pandemic hiatus, he has reached a semi-final at the US Open, a quarter-final at the French Open and won his first ATP 500 title; he is a top 10 player in all but name due to the ranking-points freeze. Now he has his first Olympic medal.
As he digested the achievement, the normally composed Spaniard sat on the floor with his head in his hands and wept. “This is amazing. I’ve never felt something like this,” he said in his television interview. “I haven’t won the tournament but it’s like the best title of my career.”