Olympics|Pablo Carreño Busta beat Novak Djokovic to win the bronze in men’s singles tennis.
TOKYO — Pablo Carreño Busta, a highly ranked Spaniard who has twice reached the semifinals of the U.S. Open but never broken through in a big way on the professional tour, outlasted Novak Djokovic, the top men’s player in the world, to win a bronze medal at the Tokyo Games on Saturday.
Soon after Carreño Busta won a marathon match that lasted 2 hours and 39 minutes, Djokovic withdrew from his bronze medal match in mixed doubles, assuring that he would end the Olympics without a medal of any color despite his ambitions to win all four Grand Slam tournaments and the Olympic men’s singles gold in the same year.
Djokovic and his partner, Nina Stojanovic, withdrew on Saturday night with what was announced as a left shoulder injury for Djokovic, and he told reporters that he was disappointed but pleased with his effort during the Games.
“It’s a must to always give your last source of energy that you have left. I’ve done that and the result wasn’t great,” Djokovic said. He added: “The exhaustion, both mental and physical, got to me and it’s unfortunate that the most important matches just didn’t deliver. But I gave it all.”
The walkover meant that Ashleigh Barty, the top-ranked women’s player who was upset in Round 1 of the women’s singles tournament, and John Peers won bronze for Australia in mixed doubles.
Carreño Busta won, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3, in a contest that had several long rallies, highlights and gamesmanship between the players. Djokovic, though, unraveled in the third set, chucking one racket out of frustration onto a concourse above a section of empty seats and banging another against the net post in front of the chair umpire after losing the first three games.
After winning, Carreño Busta dropped to the floor and spread out his arms and legs, much like Djokovic has done time and again after securing one of his 20 Grand Slam victories. After getting up, Carreño Busta greeted Djokovic at the net, then lay on the floor again in front of his courtside bench.
“I thought especially about my family, about all the people that love me, that suffer next to me, that sacrifice themselves to support me,” Carreño Busta said through an interpreter. He added: “I’ve come to Tokyo in a good physical and mental moment.”
Djokovic, who won singles bronze at the 2008 Beijing Games and lost a bronze medal match in London in 2012, had already fallen short in his attempt to be the first man to complete a Golden Slam, needing a gold for Serbia along with a U.S. Open win later this summer. Djokovic — who is 34 and the most dominant professional player right now — has already won the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon in 2021. The U.S. Open begins in late August, and he will certainly be the top favorite there because of the Grand Slam structure requiring three sets to win each match — and because he is so difficult to beat on hardcourts.
It was the second win for Carreño Busta against Djokovic. Last year, Carreño Busta was outplaying Djokovic in the U.S. Open when Djokovic hit a ball out of frustration that nailed a line judge in the throat. Djokovic, the clear favorite in the tournament, was immediately disqualified.
Both players were eliminated in their semifinals on Friday, seemingly as favorites. Yet it will be Alexander Zverev of Germany (who beat Djokovic) facing Karen Khachanov of Russia on Sunday for the gold.
Carreño Busta, 30, is ranked 11th but has only two wins on the professional tour. He won the first set after securing an early break of Djokovic’s serve. Djokovic won the second in a tiebreaker by outlasting Carreño Busta in several long rallies, including one that could have given Carreño Busta the win in straight sets.
Both players dealt with stifling heat throughout the contest: 90 degrees and humid, even in the shade of center court, with what felt like the full force of the sun bearing down on the hardcourt for the first two hours. It was only at the beginning of the third set that their court was fully covered in shade.
Tennis players up and down each draw have struggled throughout these tournaments to cope with the heat. Their only moments of relief on center court, it seems, come when they sit under large white umbrellas on each changeover, where they can have a cold drink and use a large hose that blows cold air.
Djokovic and other players had complained about the conditions earlier in the tournament, and successfully lobbied to move starting times later. If the move made a difference, it was marginal at best.
Carreño Busta said he was having his own frustrations and doubts until he went ahead in the third set.
“The first game of the third set gave me hope to believe in my game,” he said. “And yes, I swatted my way though this match.”