Novak Djokovic’s temper flares up as he leaves Tokyo empty-handed

Published July 31, 2021
Serbia's Novak Djokovic leaves after losing to Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men's singles tennis match for the bronze medal on July 31. — AFP
Serbia's Novak Djokovic leaves after losing to Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men's singles tennis match for the bronze medal on July 31. — AFP
Serbia's Novak Djokovic smashes his racket during his Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men's singles tennis match for the bronze medal against Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta on July 31. — AFP
Serbia's Novak Djokovic smashes his racket during his Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games men's singles tennis match for the bronze medal against Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta on July 31. — AFP

Novak Djokovic came to the Tokyo Olympics aiming for a Golden Slam. He’ll leave without a medal and will need some time to recover from a draining performance in extreme conditions that didn’t meet expectations.

The top-ranked Djokovic lost his cool and abused his racket several times during a 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3 loss to Pablo Carreño Busta of Spain in the bronze-medal match of the tennis tournament on Saturday.

It was Djokovic’s third defeat in two days and it came less than 24 hours after he was beaten by Alexander Zverev of Germany in the singles semi-finals. That ended his bid for a Golden Slam, which is winning all four Grand Slam titles and Olympic gold in the same year.

“I just didn’t deliver yesterday and today. The level of tennis dropped. Also due to exhaustion — mentally and physically,” Djokovic said.

“I gave it all, whatever I had left in the tank, which was not so much.”

Djokovic’s frustration was evident in his on-court behavior as the match wore on.

Having saved a match point in the second-set tiebreaker, Djokovic threw his racket into the stands — up and over five rows of seats — after he couldn’t get to a stop-volley winner from Carreño Busta to conclude a long rally in the opening game of the third.

A couple of games later, when Carreño Busta had broken his serve to take control of the decisive set, Djokovic again lost his cool and slammed his racket into the net post during a change of ends. He then picked up the mangled racket and tossed it into the photographers’ pit.

“It’s part of, I guess, who I am,” Djokovic said. “I don’t like doing these things. I’m sorry for sending this kind of message but we’re all human beings and sometimes it’s difficult to control your emotions.”

Djokovic received a verbal warning for the net-post incident, but Carreño Busta appeared to question the chair umpire as to why it wasn’t a point penalty since it was the second instance of racket abuse.

The umpire, however, hadn’t warned Djokovic for the first incident.

Djokovic, who also lost with Serbian partner Nina Stojanovic in the mixed doubles semi-finals on Friday, played a total of 16 sets over seven matches in four days.

He was due back on court later Saturday for one final match in Tokyo. He and Stojanovic were scheduled to face the Australian duo of Ash Barty and John Peers for the bronze medal in mixed doubles.

But Djokovic withdrew from that match citing a left shoulder injury — handing the bronze medal to Australia.

“I’m sorry to Nina for not being able to play but my body just gave up,” Djokovic said, adding that he has “several” injuries. “I played under medicines, unbelievable pain and exhaustion.”

As it’s been virtually all week at the Ariake Tennis Park, heat was a major factor, with the temperature soaring to 90 degrees F (32 degrees C) and stifling humidity making it feel like 100 degrees F (38 degrees C).

Both Djokovic and Carreño Busta put ice bags on their necks during changeovers. Djokovic also grabbed a rubber tube blowing cool air and stuck it up his shirt.

Later, Belinda Bencic of Switzerland will play Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic in the women’s singles gold-medal match.

Elina Svitolina of Ukraine won the bronze by rallying past Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan 1-6, 7-6 (5), 6-4. It’s been a memorable month for Svitolina, who got married to French player Gael Monfils two weeks ago.

Also, Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani of Brazil beat Russian pair Veronika Kudermetova and Elena Vesnina for bronze in women’s doubles.

Carreño Busta will have to wait until Sunday to be awarded his bronze medal, after Zverev takes on Russian player Karen Khachanov in the men’s final. That, of course, was the match that Djokovic came expecting to play in.

Djokovic won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon this year and needed the Olympic and US Open titles to complete the Golden Slam collection.

Steffi Graf in 1988 remains the only tennis player to achieve the Golden Slam. But Djokovic can still go after the calendar-year Grand Slam by winning the US Open — something no man has accomplished since Rod Laver in 1969.

The US Open starts in a month.

Djokovic said he hoped that his efforts in Tokyo would not “create (a) problem” for him at the US Open. He then added: “That’s something that I’m not sure about right now.”

Keeping his temper under control has been an issue before for Djokovic, who was disqualified from last year’s US Open after unintentionally hitting a line judge in the throat with a ball during a fourth-round match against Carreño Busta.

Carreño Busta went on to reach the semi-finals of the US Open for his career-best result at a major.

Now the 11th-ranked Carreño Busta has won an Olympic medal for another breakthrough moment — a moment he cherished by falling down onto his back next to the Olympic rings printed on the court after Djokovic netted a forehand on the Spaniard’s sixth match point.

Djokovic’s only Olympic medal remains a bronze in singles from 2008 — his first Olympics.

“I don’t regret coming to (the) Olympics at all,” Djokovic said. “Everything happens for a reason and (I’ve) had some heart-breaking losses at the Olympic Games and some big tournaments in my career. And I know that those losses have usually made me stronger.”

The 34-year-old Djokovic said he would try to “keep going” through the next Olympics in Paris in three years.

“I know that I will bounce back,” he said. “I will fight for my country to win medals.”

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