Alexander Zverev might just have finally signalled a changing of the guard when he ended Novak Djokovic’s dream of becoming the first male in the Open era of winning a Calendar Golden Slam by defeating him in the last four of the Tokyo Olympic singles.
It seemed it was impossible to beat him at this event, so I'm very happy right now, but yet there's still one match to go Alexander Zverev
Zverev stunned Djokovic 1-6 6-3 6-1 to secure a gold-medal decider against Karen Khachanov who saw off Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3 6-3 in the other semi-final.
It left his Serbian superstar opponent, whom the German considers the greatest player of all time, striving for singles bronze against Busta and, in the autumn, aiming to seal his fourth major of the year at the US Open for a calendar Grand Slam of the four majors. It also leaves Steffi Graf as the only player to achieve four Slams and a Games crown in the same year since the sport allowed in professionals.
Zverev beat Djokovic, who, along with Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal, have dominated men’s tennis for a large chunk of this century, in the 2018 ATP World Tour final at the O2.
And it was then thought the German was set to break up the exclusive club with the Big Three its lone members.
But Zverev, now 24, is still searching for his first Slam crown, only making one major final appearance when losing to Dominic Thiem in the US Open final last year.
Yet overcoming the world No.1 on a big stage again and making the Games final could mark the moment for him to muscle in on Djokovic and Co and loosen their grip on the game.
Big-serving Zverev, 6ft.6in, hinted as much as he walked tall to come back from a set and a break down against the Serb, winning ten of the last 11games, and clinch his date with Khachanov on a humid evening.
he German fourth seed said: “”I know that he was chasing history, but in these kind of moments, me and Novak are very close.
“I feel sorry for Novak, but he’s won 20 Grand Slams, 550 Masters series or whatever. You can’t have everything.
“Of course I am happy that I’ve won, but in the end of the day I also know how he feels.
“I told Novak he is the greatest player of all time. I am 99 per cent sure that he will win the most Grand Slams, the most Masters 1000.
“It’s an amazing feeling knowing that you’re going to bring a medal back home.
“It seemed it was impossible to beat him at this event, so I’m very happy right now, but yet there’s still one match to go.”
It has been suggested Djokovic might have regretted also competing in the mixed doubles in Japan.
Serbian Olympic team coach Viktor Troicki said before the semi-final against Zverev: “I was against it. The whole team was against it. Everyone was thinking about the singles. It was just him. He wanted to play. I thought he had enough of tennis the last months. Really, he played so much”.
The debuting Khachanov, the 12th seed, fired ten aces and won 92 per cent of his first-serves to bust Busta in 80 minutes.
The 25-year-old representing the Russian Olympic Committee, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist, said: “It was so important to win today because at least you know for sure that you’re guaranteed a medal, which is one of the dreams come true. But obviously, you need to find motivation and excitement, and I will try to be prepared for the final and fight for the gold.”
* Quotes from the BBC, Associated Press and the ITF