Novak Djokovic’s hopes of completing a historic Golden Slam were ended on Friday as Alexander Zverev stunned the world No. 1.
Djokovic, 34, led by a set-and-a-break and looked in complete control but Zverev roared back in remarkable fashion to win 1-6 6-3 6-1.
The German fourth seed reeled off eight games in a row – hitting some sensational winners – after being broken in the second set on his way to a major upset as he booked his spot in the gold medal match against Russia’s Karen Khachanov.
Djokovic, whose serve collapsed, has won all three Grand Slams this year and arrived into this match having only dropped 17 games in eight sets in Tokyo
Zverev, realising the gravity of the win on his Olympics debut, was left fighting back the tears on court after embracing Djokovic at the net.
He was bidding to become the first man in history to win all Grand Slams and Olympic gold in the same year but those hopes evaporated in unbelievable scenes in Japan.
He can still complete a Calendar Grand Slam if he wins the US Open – something only Rod Laver has achieved in the Open Era – and he can still win a first Olympics medal when he faces Pablo Carreno Busta in the bronze medal match.
But Olympic singles gold has once again evaded him and looks set to be the only thing missing from his trophy-laden tennis CV. He will be 37 when the Paris Olympics take place.
Djokovic’s Golden Slam bid always felt more vulnerable at the Olympics than at the Slams – where it’s best-of-three sets rather than best-of-five – but this is still one of the biggest shocks of the sporting year.
He could still win a gold medal in the mixed doubles. He will be involved in the mixed doubles with Nina Stojanovic later on Friday.
However, Zverev’s compatriot Steffi Graf remains the only tennis player – man or woman – to win all four Grand Slams and Olympic gold in the same calendar year.
Zverev started brightly, crafting a break point opportunity in the opening game of the match, but Djokovic quickly had a stranglehold on the match.
While he was forced to wriggle through three tricky opening service games, he was having more joy on return and he only dropped one game – his 18th lost of the entire tournament – on his way to a 6-1 lead.
Djokovic – facing comfortably his toughest test of the tournament – saved a second break point of the match in his first service game of the second set with an unreturned serve and two games later he pounced.
He crafted two break points with his usual blend of springing defence into attack and a netted serve-and-volley play from his opponent on the second proved costly. Zverev thumped a ball out of the stadium in frustration.
Zverev responded well, creating three break points in the next game with a clean backhand winner down the line, and Djokovic conceded the first as he netted a serve-and-volley play of his own.
The 24-year-old reeled off nine points in a row as momentum suddenly swung and won his third game on the spin as Zverev had the chance to serve for the set at 5-3.
A brutal backhand down the line saved a first set point but Zverev converted a second, with Djokovic leaving the court after dropping his first set of the tournament.
Zverev continued the third in the same manner he ended the second, breaking to reel off his fifth game in a row.
The German shrugged off intense pressure in the next game, saving four break points to consolidate the lead.
Struggling desperately on his serve, Djokovic screamed angrily at his box in the third game of the deciding set as he was broken again. He finally stopped an eight-game losing streak to hold for 4-1 in his next service game.
But Zverev was too strong on serve and he eased his way into the final, producing a spectacular upset.
Beaten Djokovic can still earn his place on the podium if he beats face Carreno Busta in the bronze medal match.
In the women’s event, Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic will take on Czech Republic’s Marketa Vondrousova in the gold medal match, with Elina Svitolina and Elena Rybakina, of Ukraine and Kazakhstan, facing off for bronze.
Bencic could win double gold if she and Swiss partner Viktorija Golubic beat Czech top seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova in the women’s doubles final.
There will be a Croatian gold medalist in the men’s doubles. Marin Cilic and Ivan Dodig take on top seeds Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic.
New Zealand’s Michael Venus and Marcus Daniell claimed bronze earlier on Friday – the first medal their country has won in tennis – beating USA’s Tennys Sandgren and Austin Krajicek. It’s the first time since 1920 that the USA will not win a tennis medal at the Olympic Games.