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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, July 30, 2021

Alexander Zverev

Alexander Zverev stormed through 10 of the last 11 games shocking Novak Djokovic to reach the gold-medal match and shatter the top seed's Golden Grand Slam dream.

Photo credit: Getty

Acute precision put Novak Djokovic three games from the gold-medal match.

Audacious power propelled Alexander Zverev to shatter the top-seeded Serbian's Golden Grand Slam dream.

More: Olympics Alter Schedule

Amping up his aggression, Zverev streaked through 10 of the last 11 games shocking world No. 1 Djokovic 1-6, 6-3, 6-1 to power into the Tokyo Olympics gold-medal match.

"He just upped his level and I just wasn't serving anymore as well as I did for a set and a half and he didn't miss too many first serves from the 2-3 down in the second set all the way to the last point," Djokovic told Olympic Channel's Trenni Kusnierek. "He was serving huge and taking every opportunity from the back of the court to attack.

"He just wasn't missing at all. He didn't give me any free points. I didn't get any free points on my serve. That's tennis at the highest level."

The fourth-seeded Zverev snapped Djokovic's 22-match winning streak in stunning style ensuring his compatriot, Hall of Famer Steffi Graf, will still stand alone as the only player in history to capture the Golden Grand Slam winning all four Grand Slam singles crowns and the Olympic gold medal in the same season. Only Graf, her husband, Andre Agassi, Rafael Nadal and Serena Williams have completed the career Golden Grand Slam.

"This is the biggest sporting event in the world. I beat a man that this year it seems impossible to beat in big events," 
Zverev told Olympic Channel's Trenni Kusnierek. "He's the greatest player of all time. I'm sure that  he will undoubtedly be that even more in the future.

"Playing here not only myself but for my country and for everybody involved, everybody at home... bringing a medal first of all back to our house here at campus and back to Germany is one of the biggest achievements of my career."

Playing declarative first-strike tennis empowered Zverev, who hit 21 more winners—37 to 16—and unleashed an eight-game surge transforming a 1-6, 2-3 deficit into a 4-0 lead in the final set. Zverev zapped seven aces against one double fault erupting with some of his most explosive serving as he fought off four break points in a crucial hold to go up 2-0 in the final set.

It's an agonizing loss for Djokovic, who was in control up 6-1, 3-2 before Zverev plugged in his electric serve, stepped closer to the baseline and hit the Australian Open champion right off the blue hard court avenging his four-set AO quarterfinal loss last February.  Djokovic, who fell to 38-4 on the season with all four losses in best-of-three-set matches, will try to complete the calendar Grand Slam at next month's US Open.

But first the 34-year-old Serbian returned to court for pursuit of a mixed doubles gold medal with Nina Stojanovic before playing for the singles bronze medal. 

Facing the prospect of a sixth straight loss to the world No. 1, Zverev gave himself some simple advice: Go hard or go home.

"I just told myself I'm gonna swing at the ball," Zverev told Olympic Channel's Trenni Kusnierek. "Before I was trying to play nice tennis where I was trying to outlast Novak, which you can't really do on a hard court, especially when he's playing well.  "So after that I thought I'm gonna use my power and try to hit the ball as hard as I can and it worked out well."

Playing with a bulls-eye on his back and the Serbian flag on his chest inspired some of Djokovic's most dynamic tennis. The 20-time Grand Slam champion had not surrendered a set and drop serve just once en route to today's semifinal. But once Zverev committed to the grip-and-rip game plan, he steamrolled the top seed with heavy strikes even touching 130 mph on some second serves.

A tough day got even more brutal as Djokovic returned to court partnering Nina Stojanovic for a spot in the mixed-doubles gold medal, but the pair fell to Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev relegating the world No. 1 to bronze-medal matches in singles and mixed.

"It's disappointing for me; I was in the driver's seat for a set and a half and had a break, but I have to give him huge credit," Djokovic said of Zverev. "He took it. He took the match he took every oportunity and he deserves to win."

Sporting a pair of gold chains around his neck, Zverev will try to become the first German gold-medal singles champion since Graf in that wondrous 1988 season and the first Geman man to win singles gold when he faces 12th-seeded Karen Khachanov in Sunday's final.

In today's first semifinal, Khachanov cracked 10 aces against only nine double faults sweeping sixth-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-3 to ensure he will win a medal. Dictating play on serve, Khachanov won 26 of 28 first-serve points in a one hour, 19-minute triumph.

"I think it's all about mind-set," Khachanov said. "I've been working so much on that part since last year I would say. Where there were ups and downs I was thinking a lot about my game, about my forehand, my backhand but actually the main key is your mind so I've been working a lot on that. And you know now it's paying off."

Tennis Express

The 12th-seeded Khachanov, who owns a 4-0 lifetime record in career finals, advanced to his first title match since he swept Alexander Zverev, Dominic Thiem and Novak Djokovic in succession to win the 2018 Paris Masters championship. The gold-medal match pits a pair of 6'6" power players who can both dictate on serve and punish their two-handed backhands. Khachanov and Zverev have split four career meetings.

"For me, it's one of the most important tournaments," Khachanov said. "It's once in a four years event with the pandemic once in five years. For me, it's a very important tournament. That's why I gave it the time, I give it the priority to come here to play and prepare for that. That's why I'm super happy to be in the final to win, for sure, one medal and to fight for the gold of course."

Dodging stress in his opening service games, Djokovic made his move in the fourth game. Zverev followed a double fault slapping a routine smash into net to face double break point. Displaying his lock-down defense, Djokovic drilled a forehand pass to snatch the break and a 3-1 lead. Djokovic navigated his fourth deuce hold extending to 4-1.

Djokovic broke again in the sixth game then pumped two aces closing out the 37-minute opener on a five-game run.

Festering frustration erupted as Zverev misfired on a forehand return then wound up and slammed his Head racquet to the court in the fourth game of the second set. Even at 30-all, Djokovic squeezed a pair of bold forehand strikes down the line, punctuating a crucial point with a shout as he held firm for 2-all.

The inability to capitalize on his chances cost Zverev, who played a sloppy fifth game. Knowing the 6'6" German isn't as comfortable at net, Djokovic dipped a pass and Zverev bumped a forehand volley into net handing Djokovic the break and a 3-2 lead. Zverev compounded that miscue belting a ball into the stands.

Releasing that negative energy, Zverev committing to clubbing anything in his strike zone.

The top seed stumbled in his sloppiest game. Zverev rapped a fine running pass down the line for triple break point. Djokovic knocked a backhand volley into net dropping serve at love. It was just the second time in five tournament matches the Wimbledon winner surrendered serve.

From a set and a break deficit, Zverev rolled through eight straight points snatching a 4-3 second-set lead. An empowered Zverev ripped a pair of backhand winners then snapped off a smash for double break point in the eighth game. Trying to shorten points, Djokovic netted a drop shot attempt losing his second straight service game.

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A resurgent Zverev earned a set point, but Djokovic wiped it away whipping a two-handed winner down the line. Zverev zapped his second ace then cranked a crosscourt forehand to take the second set and force a finale after one hour, 22 minutes.

The 20-time Grand Slam champion left the court for a clothing change. Sirens reverberated outside Ariake Tennis Park as Djokovic fell into a double break point hole to start the decider. The Serbian scattered a forehand to drop serve for the third time in a row.

Breathing more heavily, Djokovic needed a stand to stop a five-game slide. Zverev saved three break points including firing a forehand pass that left the top seed sprawling across the court to pop up a diving volley. Zverev erased a fourth break point with a forehand.  Zverev zapped four aces, including scalding the sideline with a game-ending ace, navigating a near nine-minute hold for a 2-0 lead in the decider. The German made 14 of 16 first serves in that critical game.

Down love-30 in the third game, Djokovic dropped to a squat and unleashed a primal scream of frustration, but the wailing cry didn't deter Zverev. The German curled a crosscourt forehand pass for his fourth straight break.

Continuing to serve with menace, Zverev stamped his eighth straight game stretching his lead to 4-0 on a shell-shocked Djokovic, who was struggling to string points together. Djokovic snapped his eight-game slide with a slice serve wide.

Last September, Zverev blew a two-set lead in the US Open final bowing to Dominic Thiem in a gut-wrenching f five-set loss. Seeing the finish line today, Zverev soared for a smash and cracked a forehand holding for 5-1.

One final backhand blast down the line sealed a stunning two hour, three-minute triumph that was Zverev's first win over Djokovic since his 6-4, 6-3 victory in the 2018 ATP Finals championship match.

"Playing against the best in the world, you've got to have the best performance that you can otherwise you'll end up with no chance," Zverev said. "It really looked that way for a set and a half, but I'm happy to be through and I'm happy to be in the gold medal match."

The pair shared an emotional embrace at net afterward.

"I'm sorry," Zverev told the world No. 1 after dissolving his Golden Grand Slam dream while ensuring he will take home a medal.


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