Newly-crowned Wimbledon champion Ash Barty has added an Olympic bronze medal to her collection after Novak Djokovic was a late scratching from the pair’s much-anticipated mixed doubles showdown in Tokyo.
Barty and one-time housemate John Peers were awarded Australia’s 27th medal of the Games when Djokovic was unable to back up partner Nina Stojanovic following a sapping two-hour, 47-minute singles bronze medal playoff loss to Pablo Carreno Busta earlier on Saturday.
The Serbian superstar’s late no-show robbed fans of a rare clash between tennis’ two world No.1s.
But it secured Australia’s first Olympic tennis medal since Alicia Molik claimed bronze in the women’s singles in Athens 17 years ago.
Barty and Peers had suffered semi-final heartbreak on Friday night, letting slip a match point and the chance to play for gold in a 5-7 6-4 13-11 loss to Russians Andrey Rublev and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
But after suffering a shock first-round loss as the singles top seed to Spain’s world No.47 Sara Sorribes Tormo and then crashing out in the third round of the doubles with Storm Sanders, Barty’s debut Olympics had a happy ending on the podium.
Barty lived with the Peers family five years ago in Melbourne during the early stages of her comeback to tennis following an 18-month hiatus, making their medal extra special and not the least bit hollow after Djokovic’s pull-out.
“For Johnny and I, it’s incredible,” Barty said.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in the position, over the whole week, to play good tennis. We’ve played great. I felt like we really deserve this one.
“It’s what you dream of as a child. Being part of an Olympic Games, but also not being here just to make up the numbers.
“We came here to win a medal for our country and now, to do that, I know it’s been a long time since the tennis team has brought home a medal for the Australian team.
“So it’s really exciting. We’re rapt. We’re going to enjoy tonight, enjoy tomorrow and really soak it all in.”
While the Australians rejoice, Djokovic’s deflating forfeit completed possibly the most miserable 24 hours in his decorated career.
Loving life in the athletes’ village, where he’s been a magnet to other Olympians throughout the Games, the 20-times grand slam champion awoke on Friday morning a raging favourite to continue his seemingly relentless march towards a fabled “golden slam”.
Instead he will depart Japan empty-handed, having lost three matches in two days, then not taking the court against Barty and Peers.
The previously untouchable world No.1 not only lost the mixed doubles semi-final on Friday, but also successive singles encounters in a disastrous end to his fourth Olympic campaign.
Rubbing salt into his wounds, after blowing a big lead in the semi-finals against Alexander Zverev, Djokovic’s 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 loss to Carreno Busta came against the same opponent he was playing while defaulted during last year’s US Open for carelessly hitting a lineswoman in the throat with a ball.
“I do have a regret for not winning a medal for my country. Opportunities missed both in doubles and singles,” he said.
“But I don’t regret coming to the Olympics at all. Of course not.”
The 34-year-old still has the opportunity to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to complete the calendar-year grand slam with victory at next month’s US Open.