Tokyo, July 31 (IANS) Hours after losing a tough men's singles bronze-medal match to Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic of Serbia withdrew from the mixed doubles bronze-medal match at the Olympics due to a left shoulder injury.
What could have been a mouth-watering clash between two world No. 1s and reigning Wimbledon champions -- Serbia's Djokovic is the world No. 1 men's player, while Australia's Ashleigh Barty is the women's numero uno -- ended in a damp squib with the former pulling out at the last minute.
The Serbian team of Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic was to take on Australia's world No. 1 women's singles player Ashleigh and John Peers in mixed doubles bronze contest, but the International Tennis Federation (ITF) tweeted before the match that the winner of 20 Grand Slam singles had withdrawn.
"Novak Djokovic withdraws from the mixed doubles bronze medal match due to a left shoulder injury. Ashleigh Barty and John Peers receive a walkover against Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic and win the bronze medal for Australia," tweeted ITF.
It is a first Olympic Games medal for both Ashleigh and Peers, and a sixth tennis medal for Australia. Previously, Alicia Molik took bronze at 2004 Athens in women's singles; in women's doubles, bronze went to Elizabeth Smylie and Wendy Turnbull at Seoul 1988, and Rachel McQuillan and Nicole Bradtke at Barcelona 1992. In men's doubles, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodford won gold at Atlanta 1996 and silver at Sydney 2000.
Earlier, Djokovic lost the men's singles bronze-medal match, bowing out to Spain's Carreno Busta 6-4, 6-7 (8-6), 6-3 at the Ariake Tennis Park.
Djokovic had arrived in Tokyo trying to become the first man to have a Golden Slam. He had already won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in 2021 and was trying to complete the rare phenomena with a gold medal at the Olympics followed by the US Open title, which starts at the end of August.
At the Olympics, where big-ticket players like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer were not playing, it gave Djokovic his best chance of completing a Golden Slam. With the dream shattered, his next opportunity at an Olympics gold will now come in Paris 2024. He will be 37 by then.
Busta, ranked 12th in the world, won the first set 6-4. Djokovic made a comeback to clinch the second set 7-6 (8-6) via a tie-breaker and take the match into the decider. He even saved a match point in the second set.
After squandering a match point at 6-5 in the second set tie-breaker, Busta rallied hard in the third set. But his Serbian opponent went on to save four match points in the third set.
In between, Djokovic's frustrations started to grow. Early in the third set, when he failed to break Busta, he threw one racquet into the empty stands at 0-1. When down at 0-3, he smashed another racquet against the net post.
In the end, the 30-year-old Busta fought back to win the third set 6-3, thanks to a forehand netted by Djokovic, and clinched the bronze medal in two hours and 49 minutes.
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