Alexander Zverev stunned top seed Novak Djokovic 1-6 6-3 6-1 on Friday to reach the final of the Tokyo Olympics. After the match Zverev said he is “proud” to have the opportunity to contest for the gold medal, before revealing that he called Djokovic the “greatest of all time” at the post-match handshake.
The fourth seed looked down and out after the early exchanges. He won only one game in the first set and then went down a break early in the second. But Zverev scripted an epic turnaround, winning 10 of the last 11 games of the match to end Djokovic’s hopes of winning the Golden Slam.
The 24-year-old will take on ROC’s Karen Khachanov in the final on Sunday.
“It’s an amazing feeling, knowing that you’re going to bring the medal back to your house, back home to Germany,” Zverev told ITF Tennis after the match. “It’s incredible beating the best player in the world undoubtedly right now, and in this season. It seemed it was impossible to beat him at this event, so I’m very happy right now. But there’s still one match to go.”
“Perhaps the proudest moment of my career, because I play not only for my family and myself, but also for everyone at home. The Olympic Games are the biggest sporting event in the world.”
At the end of the match, Zverev and Djokovic were pictured having a warm exchange at the net. The German admitted he felt sorry for ending the Serb’s bid to make history, even as he labeled Djokovic the GOAT.
“I told him that he’s the greatest of all time, and he will be,” Zverev said. “I know that he was chasing history, chasing the Golden Slam and was chasing the Olympics, but in these kind of moments me and Novak are very close. Of course I’m happy that I’ve won, but at the end of the day I know how Novak feels.”
“I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been” – Alexander Zverev on his slow start
Zverev has looked like a man on a mission at the Tokyo Olympics. The fourth seed whizzed through the first four rounds in the Japanese capital without dropping a set, serving a plethora of aces and committing just two double faults.
But against Djokovic on Friday, Zverev failed to stay out of bruising baseline exchanges and got broken twice as the top seed pocketed the first set for the loss of a solitary game.
The 24-year-old made a better start in the second set, holding his first two service games. But he dropped serve to fall behind 2-3.
However, a ripping backhand winner in the sixth game of the second helped Zverev turn the match around. The German broke back at the first time of asking and then reeled off three more games to restore parity. He then dropped just one game in the decider to breeze past the finish line.
Reflecting on his performance in the match, Zverev admitted he wasn’t as aggressive as he would have liked to have been at the start. The German revealed that he started to play more freely after falling behind, a tactic that paid rich dividends.
“I was behind the set and the break,” said Zverev. “Although I didn’t feel like I was playing badly, I did play his game – exchanges from the baseline, long points.”
“I wasn’t as aggressive as I should have been,” added Zverev. “I did play nicely, but that is not enough against him; he will win in exchanges. I told myself that I would hit more freely after that, and it paid off. “
Zverev will now look to script history by beating Khachanov to become the first German man to win the Olympic singles gold.
If he does beat the Russian, Zverev will also become the first tennis player from his country to win the singles event at the quadrennial competition since Steffi Graf triumphed at Seoul in 1988.