Novak Djokovic vowed to come back stronger as he faced up to more Olympic heartbreak in Tokyo.
The world number one will leave the Japanese capital without a medal after losing out to Pablo Carreno Busta in a hard-fought battle for singles bronze and then pulling out of his mixed doubles clash with Nina Stojanovic with the same prize on the line citing a left shoulder injury.
Djokovic had been bidding to become the first man to win a Golden Slam of all four major titles and Olympic singles gold in the same year before a shock loss to Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals on Friday.
Rousing himself to go for bronze was always likely to be tough and he lost his cool early in the third set against Spain’s Carreno Busta when he failed to break serve, hurling one racket into the empty stands and then smashing another against the net post, as he fell to a 6-4 6-7 (6) 6-3 defeat.
This was the third time Djokovic, who had not lost back-to-back matches since 2019, has played for bronze at the Olympics but a 2008 victory over James Blake in Beijing remains his only medal.
He will be 37 in Paris in three years’ time but insisted he would continue his quest, while his immediate priority is to rest and recover both mentally and physically in time for his biggest goal – to win the US Open and become the first man in more than 50 years to complete the calendar Grand Slam.
Djokovic said: “I do have a regret for not winning a medal for my country. Opportunities missed both in doubles and singles. I didn’t deliver yesterday and today, the level of tennis dropped, also due to exhaustion, mentally and physically.
“But I don’t regret coming to the Olympics at all. I believe there is no coincidence in life, everything happens for a reason, and I had some heartbreaking losses at Olympic Games and some big tournaments in my career, and I know that those losses have usually made me stronger, in every aspect.
“I know that I will bounce back. I will try to keep going for Paris Olympic Games, I will fight for my country to win medals and I’m sorry that I disappointed a lot of sports fans in my country, but that’s sport.
“I gave it all, whatever I had left in the tank, which was not so much. I felt it out on the court. The consequences physically hopefully will not create a problem for me for US Open. That’s something that I’m not sure about right now.
“But I’m not regretting giving it all because, when you play for your country, that’s necessary.”
He had made winning a medal for Serbia one of his major goals for the season but his serve, which had gone badly off the boil against Zverev, was missing in action again in the first set.
It improved in the second and Djokovic saved a match point at 5-6 in the tie-break before clinching it to force a decider.
Carreno Busta was the opponent at the US Open last summer when Djokovic was defaulted for hitting a line judge with a ball and, when the Spaniard saved a break point in the opening game, his opponent again had a worrying loss of control, flinging his racket into the stands.
Remarkably, he did not receive a warning, and Carreno Busta was clearly shocked that Djokovic was not given a point penalty when he angrily destroyed another racket after falling 3-0 behind.
Speaking later, Djokovic said: “It was an emotional outburst and it happens. It’s not the first time and not the last time, probably.
“It’s not nice of course but it’s part of, I guess, who I am. I don’t like doing these things. I’m sorry for sending this kind of message but we’re all human beings and sometimes it’s difficult to control your emotions.”
He tried to turn the match around but Carreno Busta, who has played the best tennis of his career over the last year, withstood superbly to claim his first Olympic medal, finally clinching his sixth match point.
The 30-year-old lay amid the Olympic rings at the back of the court in celebration as his opponent waited to congratulate him at the net.
Carreno Busta said: “It’s an incredible feeling. It’s not a title but I never feel something like this, representing my country, representing all the people in Spain. To win this medal, it’s our gold.”
Djokovic and Stojanovic’s withdrawal handed mixed doubles bronze to Australian duo Ashleigh Barty and John Peers while Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani claimed Brazil’s first tennis medal with bronze in the women’s doubles.
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