It was always going to be a massive ask for Serbian Novak Djokovic to land the ‘Golden Slam’ – that is all four of tennis’ major tournaments as well as an Olympic gold medal. No men’s singles player has ever managed the feat and you have to go back to the last century – and the year 1988 – when Steffi Graf managed the remarkable achievement in the women’s game.
How it Slipped Away
While Nole was highly fancied – according to the online betting markets, anyway – his chances came crashing down, with defeat at the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The World No. 1 had previously won a bronze medal in Beijing (2008) and was hoping to go one step closer this year, again in Asia. It’s been an incredible year for the 34-year-old, who has already won the Australian Open, French Open, and more recently, Wimbledon titles.
And having been a set up against Germany’s Alexander Zverev, Djokovic was eventually beaten in three sets: 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 at the semi-final stage – to deny him a crack of landing that gold medal. Zverev is No. 5 in the world and dispatched Karen Khachanov of the Russian Olympic Committee in the final. It went from bad to worse for Nole, who failed to add to his medal tally as Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta won 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 in the bronze medal match. Clearly frustrated, he decided to decline a post-match press interview.
It was the first Olympic medal for the 24-year-old German, Zverev, who is also yet to win one of tennis’ Grand Slam tournaments. The closest he has come was last year at Flushing Meadows, when he lost out to Dominic Thiem in an epic battle: 2–6, 4–6, 6–4, 6–3, 7–6 (8–6).
After the match, Zverev told the media:
“I knew he was chasing a Golden Slam but you can’t win everything,
“I told him he was the greatest player of all time, but I’m sorry.”
For Djokovic, the focus will now be on securing the Borg-Warner Trophy – a trophy he has won on three occasions. Of course, last year’s tournament didn’t quite go to plan, with the pandemic wreaking havoc on entries and withdrawals, as well as the early exit for the World No. 1 at the fourth round stage – where he faced upcoming opponent Carreño Busta. Nole was famously disqualified, after hitting a line judge in the neck, with a ball hit in frustration – having lost his serve and been trailing the first set 6-5.
Lessons will have undeniably be learned from that misdemeanor, and having leveled with fellow greats Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal with 20 Grand Slam titles, following victory at Wimbledon, the stakes are high. Not only could he get ahead of his long-standing rivals with 21 Grand Slam wins to his name, but of course, there is the Calendar Slam up for grabs too. In the history of the sport, only five names lay claim to this incredible achievement – but only once has it happened in the Open Era, in the men’s singles – with Rod Laver in 1969. Margaret Court (1970) and of course, Graf (1988) are the only others from the women’s game and Open Era to manage a Calendar Slam.
Nole has got what it takes to add his name to the record books – after all, he has won two career Grand Slams already, having won for the second time at Roland-Garros earlier this year. But despite being at the top of his game and only still 34 years of age, you have to think it could be now or never for Djokovic to land that Calendar Slam. Whether he achieves it or not, it’s unlikely we will ever see another men’s singles player reach the heights he has in his career – and landing 20 Grand Slam titles will be a pipedream for many in the future.
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