Zverev packs off Djokovic to set up final against Khachanov

No hard feelings: Germany’s Alexander Zverev (left) consoling Serbia’s Novak Djokovic winning their men’s singles semi-final clash yesterday. — AP

TOKYO: An astonishing collapse ended Novak Djokovic’s bid for an unprecedented men’s Golden Slam as Germany’s Alexander Zverev reached the Olympic final 1-6, 6-3, 6-1,

The world number one Serbian looked in complete control as he took the opening set with ease and broke for 3-2 in fifth game of the second set to move to the verge of victory.

But Zverev immediately broke back to spark an eight-game winning run which levelled the match and put him in a commanding 4-0 lead in the decider. Djokovic recovered to offer some resistance but could not repair the damage as Zverev claimed 10 of the last 11 games to win.

Zverev was warmly congratulated by Djokovic at the net but then took time to compose himself beneath his towel at the Ariake Tennis Park, empty of fans amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“I told him that he’s the greatest of all time, and he will be,” Zverev explained.

“I know that he was chasing history, is chasing the Golden Slam and was chasing the Olympics, but in these kind of moments me and Novak are very close.

“Of course I’m happy that I’ve won, but at the end of the day I know how Novak feels.”

The 24-year-old Zverev, fifth in the world, will now take on the 25th ranked Russian Karen Khachanov for the biggest title of his career in tomorrow’s final. Neither man has won a Slam though Zverev did lose the 2020 US Open decider.

“You’re not only playing for yourself, you are playing for the whole country, for the people here, for everybody watching and supporting you,” said Zverev.

“This is a great achievement for myself, but I’m sure that everybody is also quite happy about that.”

The defeat ends Djokovic’s attempt to become the first man to win all four Grand Slams plus Olympic gold in a season – only Steffi Graf, in 1988, has achieved the feat on the women’s side.

But the Serbian can still become only the third man to claim a calendar year Grand Slam if he wins the US Open which start in a month’s time.

This feat has only been achieved by American Donald Budge, in 1938, and Australia’s Rod Laver, in 1962 and 1969.

Khachanov defeated Spain’s Pablo Carreno-Busta 6-3, 6-3 to reach the final. Djokovic and Carreno-Busta will contest bronze today.

“It’s just a pure happiness, pleasure to be here to live those moments, these kind of memories will stay forever,” Khachanov said of reaching the final.

“Today it was working, unbelievably well. The final will be another story, another match, another day. I hope it will be the same.”

Yesterday in Tokyo also has an all-Croatian duel in the men’s doubles final after New Zealand duo Marcus Daniell and Michael Venus beat Americans Tennys Sandgren and Austin Krajicek for bronze.

Djokovic will return to partner Nina Stojanovic in the mixed doubles semis, hoping to set up a final meeting with Australians Ash Barty and John Peers. — AFP

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