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By Richard Pagliaro | Saturday, July 31, 2021

Pablo Carreno Busta

Pablo Carreno Busta did not drop serve stunning world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 to clinch the Olympic bronze medal in an emotional victory.

Photo credit: International Tennis Federation Facebook

Unrelenting spirit and an unbreakable serve propelled Pablo Carreno Busta to career pinnacle.

Carreno Busta denied all six break points he faced stunning a frustrated world No. 1 Novak Djokovic 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-3 in a wild thrill ride to capture the bronze medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

More: Zverev Stuns Djokovic

Competing with calm intensity, Carreno Busta converted his sixth match point then fell flat on his back across the Olympic rings emblazoned across the court soaking in supreme joy.

The 30-year-old Carreno Busta completed a remarkable run that saw him defeat the world's top two-ranked players—stopping second-ranked Daniil Medvedev in the quarterfinals and staving off Djokovic today—to become the first Spanish player to capture an Olympic singles medal since Rafael Nadal won gold at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Given all he's endured knocking off two Grand Slam champions in six matches and seeing Djokovic save a match point at 5-6 in the tiebreaker you can understand why this bronze shines like gold for Carreno Busta.

"The dream has come true; you know this is amazing," Carreno Busta told Olympic Channel's Trenni Kusnierek. "I never feel something like this. It's a bronze medal, but for me it's like a gold.

"After losing yesterday I continue believing all the time against the best player in the world. Losing the second set I continued fighting all the time. I was serving amazing during all the tournament maybe yesterday not like today, but today I continue serving very good. Novak didn't break me so that's incredible."

This bronze-medal clash played in sweltering heat was a rematch of the 2020 US Open fourth round when Djokovic imploded inadvertently striking a lineswoman in the throat with a stray ball prompting his shocking default from the Open.

In a Flushing Meadows flashback today, an ornery Djokovic lost his grip a couple of times flinging his racquet into the empty stands in the third set and later slamming his Head stick off the net leaving a mangled mess. Despite emotional outbursts, Djokovic fought hard saving five bronze-medal points before succumbing.

Tennis can bring even iconic champions to emotional extremes and an anguished Djokovic saw his Golden Grand Slam dream dissolve. Djokovic arrived in Tokyo continuing his quest to become the first man to attain the Golden Grand Slam—winning all four Grand Slam crowns and the Olympic gold medal in the same season—and departs without a medal after enduring gut-wrenching losses. 

Shortly after today's two hour, 47-minute defeat in searing heat, Djokovic withdrew from the mixed doubles bronze-medal match citing a left shoulder injury. The man who has played otherworldly tennis at times sweeping the season's first three Grand Slam championships showed he's human playing under immense pressure and intense heat in Tokyo.

A depleted Djokovic told Serbian media he expended all the energy he had left and vowed he will make another run at the gold medal at the 2024 Paris Olympics. First, of course, he will try to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the calendar Grand Slam at next month's US Open.

The top-seeded Serbian rode a 22-match winning streak into yesterday's semifinals against Alexander Zverev and built a 6-1, 3-2 lead. Three games from the gold-medal match, Djokovic ran into a roadblock as the fourth-seeded Zverev stormed through 10 of the final 11 games in a stunning reversal of fortune. In the last 24 hours, Djokovic has suffered three losses, including a mixed doubles defeat yesterday partnering Nina Stojanovic—all this from a man who had not lost back-to-back matches since the 2019 ATP Finals.

The Carreno Busta serve
—he served 70 percent and out-aced Djokovic 7 to 3—his competitive spirit and stability empowered him to what he called "the best title of my career and I didn't win the title."

"Never I feel this and I didn't win the tournament, but it's like the best title of my career and I didn't win the title," Carreno Busta said. "So this is incredible. This is for all the people who believe in myself and to all the people who support me when I win and when I lost."

The sixth-seeded Spaniard caught a gear breaking at love and racing through eight of nine points to seize a 4-2 lead.

Djokovic saved a pair of set points holding from 15-40 down for 4-5 then applied the pressure earning two break points when the Spaniard served for it. Carreno Busta was up to the task saving both break points then torching his first ace of the day to seal a one-set lead after 49 minutes.

Bending over at times as if recoiling from the effects of the searing heat, the top seed served just 40 percent in the opening set committing 10 unforced errors compared to seven for his opponent.

Both men protected serve throughout the second set. Carreno Busta battled back from love-30 down to level after 10 games. Djokovic knifed a backhand volley into the corner, capping his second love hold for 6-5.

The court was nearly completely covered in shade by the time the tie breaker began. Carreno Busta committed four errors in a row falling behind 1-4, but responded roaring through five of the next six points for a bronze-medal point at 6-5. Djokovic jammed a 119 mph serve out wide to save it.

A fired-up Djokovic rocketed a 123 mph serve for a set point and snatched the set on the Spaniard's error.

Staring down a sixth break point to start the final set, Carreno Busta withstood a crackling 27-shot rally to save it. Hands on hips, Djokovic stared at the court as if befuddled by his inability to break the Spaniard's serve.

Chasing a Carreno Busta shot in vain, a frustrated Djokovic unloaded throwing his racquet into the empty stands as Carreno Busta stood firm holding to start the decider.  Surprisingly, that racquet hurl did not earn Djokovic a code violation warning though it caught his opponent's attention as a tell the top seed was at an emotional breaking point.

In a dramatic two-game swing, the Spaniard scored his second break of the day for a 2-0 lead leaving Djokovic howling in a primal scream from opportunity lost.

Festering frustration erupted in Djokovic who missed a volley to fall behind 0-3 then wound up and splattered his racquet off the Olympic sign affixed to the net leaving a contorted mess of his Head frame. After that outburst, Carreno Busta questioned the chair umpire on why the Serbian did not receive a point penalty after first flinging his racquet into the stands in the opening game.

Though Carreno Busta did not win the argument, he didn't press the issue further. Still seething, Djokovic drilled an ace to hold in the fourth game.

The 11th-ranked Spaniard swept a backhand winner down the line wrapping his first love hold of the final set for a 5-2 lead.

Digging in to make a stand, Djokovic twice touched the line with drives setting up a smash to take a 15-30 lead when Carreno Busta served for the bronze medal. The Spaniard stung his first serve and earned a second bronze-medal point. Djokovic belted a backhand down the line to erase it. Carreno Busta cracked his sixth ace for a third bronze-medal point, but steered a backhand wide. Djokovic flicked another backhand down the line fending off a fourth match point.

On his fifth bronze-medal point, Carreno Busta watched wide-eyed as a Djokovic crosscourt forehand dropped directly on the sideline. Carreno Busta came right back with an ace off the sideline for a sixth match point.

When Djokovic netted a forehand, Carreno Busta fell to his back in celebration and arose as the fourth Spaniard to win a singles medal.


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