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Novak Djokovic, The World's No. 1 Tennis Player, Fails To Medal At The Olympics

Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during the bronze medal match that he lost to Spain's Pablo Carreño Busta at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.
Seth Wenig
Novak Djokovic of Serbia reacts during the bronze medal match that he lost to Spain's Pablo Carreño Busta at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.

Since his arrival at the Olympic Village, tennis star Novak Djokovic has regaled fellow athletes with his techniques for mental strength, dealing with pressure, and "how to bounce back if you lost your focus."

Apparently, even Djokovic sometimes has trouble following his own advice. After a shocking loss to Germany's Alexander Zverev on Friday, the world's No. 1-ranked Djokovic lost again Saturday, this time to Spain's Pablo Carreño Busta. Zverev now goes on to play Russia's Karen Khachanov in Sunday's final.

Friday's loss to Zverev killed Djokovic's chances of achieving a mythical Golden Slam — winning all four Grand Slam titles and the Olympic gold in a single year. His loss on Saturday killed the Serb's chances of taking home even a bronze medal in the Tokyo Games.

"I just didn't deliver yesterday and today," Djokovic said after the match. "The level of tennis dropped. Also due to exhaustion — mentally and physically. I gave it all, whatever I had left in the tank, which was not so much."

No man has achieved a Golden Slam. The only tennis player to ever reach that accomplishment was Steffi Graf in 1988.

After losing the first set 6-4, Djokovic's temper started flaring. He was able to win a tiebreaker to eke out a victorious second set 7-6. But the third set quickly got away from him. During the opening game, after failing to return a volley after a long rally, Djokovic threw his racket into the stands. Some time later, after his serve was broken by the 11th-ranked Carreño Busta, Djokovic hit the net post with his racket, earning him a warning from the umpire.

"It's part of who, I guess, I am," Djokovic said after the match. "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 was famously ejected from the 2020 U.S. Open after he angrily hit a ball behind him without looking — hitting a line judge in the neck. Djokovic, who won this year's Australian and French opens as well as Wimbledon, is scheduled to headline the 2021 U.S. Open next month, where he remains a favorite.

Late Saturday, Djokovic withdrew from a planned doubles match with partner Nina Stojanovic, citing a shoulder injury.

"I don't regret coming to the Olympics at all," said Djokovic, who hasn't won an Olympic medal since 2008. "Everything happens for a reason," he said, adding, "I know that these losses have usually made me stronger."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Matthew S. Schwartz is a reporter with NPR's news desk. Before coming to NPR, Schwartz worked as a reporter for Washington, DC, member station WAMU, where he won the national Edward R. Murrow award for feature reporting in large market radio. Previously, Schwartz worked as a technology reporter covering the intricacies of Internet regulation. In a past life, Schwartz was a Washington telecom lawyer. He got his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center, and his B.A. from the University of Michigan ("Go Blue!").
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