Emotionally spent Djokovic falls at final hurdle  

Express News Service

CHENNAI: Chasing invincibility is never easy. Pressure, as most elite athletes maintain, is a privilege. But add expectation and history to the mix and it can turn heady. Especially in a world filled with unending news cycles, where the best can feel claustrophobic from all the attention. 

Novak Djokovic temporarily lifted the veil to allow mortals a peek into this world at the Tokyo Olympics. He arrived in Japan as the prohibitive favourite to win a fourth gong in his quest to complete a Golden Slam: winning four Majors as well as an Olympics gold. It’s hard. Only one player in history, Steffi Graf (1988), had done it.

The Serb failed in this lofty quest, going down in the semifinal in Tokyo. In the bronze medal match, there was a spectacular implosion. At one point, he flung his racquet into the stands. On another occasion, he broke it so badly even the scrapyard wouldn’t have accepted its remains.

On Sunday night, inside the sport’s biggest theatre — Arthur Ashe Stadium — the 34-year-old was chasing another piece of history. The Grand Slam, winning all four in a calendar year. Only five have done it ever. 
The narrative was set in stone even before the final. It would be the night of Djokovic’s coronation.

Not just a Grand Slam but the night would also see him move past both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer for sole lead of most Majors won by a male. There was logic behind that assertion. Coming into the final, the Djokovic-ian trait of coming back after losing the first set, winning the most important points in matches and outlasting opponents were all present.

Even when he lost the first set to Daniil Medvedev, there was no cause for alarm. Ten minutes later, though, the pendulum shifted dramatically. The Serb lost five break point opportunities to let the Russian off the hook.

There was also a code warning for racquet abuse in this period. Watching him, it was evident he wasn’t being himself. It seemed like he was emotionally spent. Something he agreed in the post match press conference. “I was glad it was over,” he said. “Mentally, emotionally I had to deal with throughout the tournament in the last couple of weeks was just a lot to handle.”

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