Alexander Zverev has downed Novak Djokovic in the semifinals of the Olympic Games. He now has the opportunity to play for a gold medal against Russia’s Karen Khachanov. Though it was Zverev’s first appearance at the Olympics, he looked right at home playing for his country on the biggest stage. He had sailed through his first four matches in straight sets and he also reached the quarterfinals in the doubles.
It looked as though Zverev’s run had come to an end against Djokovic, however, after the Serbian took the first 6-1 and went up a break in the second set to move ahead 3-2 with some electrifying tennis. From there though, whether it was patriotic inspiration or just plain stubbornness, Zverev raised his level to win the next 10 games on the bounce. The 24-year-old played out of his skin, allowing Djokovic just one more game from that turning point.
He made 72% of his first serves, 8% higher than his career average and consistently outplayed Djokovic from the back of the court, a superb achievement given the form Djokovic had shown coming into the match. The most impressive stat was perhaps his double fault count, however. He hit just one. Zverev broke down in tears at the end of the match, emotionally struck by what he’d achieved.
This is only the fourth defeat of 2021 for Djokovic, who was hoping to keep his dreams of the Golden Slam alive. Though he will still play for the bronze medal against Pablo Carreno Busta, it marks the first time this year that Djokovic has lost the majority of his service points in a match – he will have walked off court knowing he could have played better and may find little consolation in playing for third place. Don’t be too surprised if Djokovic suffers a second consecutive loss, perhaps feeling the lingering pang of disappointment.
To add insult to injury, Djokovic had been on a four match winning streak against the German, though their previous two matches had been incredibly tight. He may have another chance at the gold in three years, but will be 37-years-old at the next Olympic Games.
Though Zverev has previously been in a major final, this match is potentially more important for the young man as he will be the favourite against Khachanov. Zverev has given himself a huge opportunity to make tennis history in Germany, fighting for the chance to become the first German to win a gold medal in the men’s singles event (Steffi Graf won gold in the women’s singles in 1988 and Boris Becker and Michael Stich won gold in the men’s doubles in 1992).
Were he to finish runner-up, he would join Tommy Haas (2004) as the only other German to win silver in the men’s singles event (Steffi Graf and Angelique Kerber won silver in the women’s singles in 1992 and 2016, respectively, and Nicolas Kiefer and Rainer Schüttler won silver in the men’s doubles in 2004).
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