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Novak Djokovic tosses, smashes racket in bronze medal match loss at Tokyo Olympics

Serbian Novak Djokovic showed plenty of frustration in his bronze medal match loss to Pablo Carreño Busta. (Rungroj Yongrit/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Novak Djokovic lost both his cool and a couple of rackets Saturday as an Olympic quest that started with goals of a gold medal and a “Golden Slam,” ended in frustration, defeat and withdrawal.

Djokovic suffered his third defeat in two days, losing the bronze medal match in men’s singles to Spain’s Pablo Carreño Busta, 6-4, 6-7 (8-6), 6-3, at Ariake Tennis Park in Tokyo.

During the opening game of the third set, a scrambling Djokovic couldn’t reach a stop-volley winner from Carreño Busta and immediately flung his racket into the stands and over the fifth row. In the third game, he smashed his racket against a net post and received a verbal warning.

Djokovic’s display of frustration comes days after he was asked about pressure, following four-time gold medalist Simone Biles’s withdrawal from gymnastics competition, to which she has yet to return. Biles and tennis star Naomi Osaka are among several Olympians who have spoken about the weight of the pressure and the challenges they have faced both in the lead-up to and throughout these Games.

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“Pressure is a privilege,” Djokovic had said. “Without pressure there is no professional sport. If you are aiming to be at the top of the game you better start learning how to deal with pressure. And how to cope with those moments on the court but also off the court, all the expectations.”

Djokovic opened the Olympics looking to become the first male player to earn the Golden Slam, winning all four Grand Slam tournaments and an Olympic gold medal in the same year. The top-ranked men’s player already won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, and will compete in next month’s U.S. Open.

His endeavor ended Friday, when German Alexander Zverev won their semifinal match, 1-6, 6-3, 6-1. Djokovic and Serbian teammate Nina Stojanovic lost their mixed doubles match to Aslan Karatsev and Elena Vesnina of the Russian Olympic Committee that same day.

After his nearly three-hour match against world No. 11 Carreño Busta, Djokovic told reporters he wanted to continue to fight despite falling short of the final.

“I think it’s part of the DNA of professional athletes, I think it’s a given, it’s a must to always give your very last source of energy that you have left,” he said. “I’ve done that and result wasn’t great.”

Djokovic was slated to compete in another bronze medal event Saturday afternoon, pairing with Stojanovic to face Australia’s Ashleigh Barty and John Peers. But he withdrew from that match, citing a left shoulder injury, and handed the medal to Australia.

After winning a bronze in singles at the 2008 Olympics, Djokovic, 34, has failed to reach the podium in three straight Summer Games. He said he “will try to keep going” for the Paris Games in 2024.

“I’m at least pleased with the effort that I’ve given on the court,” he said Saturday. “I know that I have not played well today and yesterday in the second and third set. The exhaustion, both mental and physical, got to me, and it’s unfortunate that [in the] most important matches it just didn’t deliver but I gave it all.”

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