Novak Djokovic arrived at Tokyo dreaming of a golden slam.
But the world No.1 will leave without an Olympic singles medal after losing the playoff for bronze 6-4 6-7 (6-8) 6-3 to Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
Djokovic had been aiming to become the first man to win all four majors and an Olympic gold medal in the same calendar year, matching the feat achieved by Steffi Graf in 1988.
But his quest came to an end after he was beaten by fourth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany in three sets in Friday’s semi-final.
Djokovic went down again on Saturday, marking his third appearance and second defeat in an Olympic singles bronze medal match.
He won bronze at the Beijing Games in 2008 before losing to Argentina’s Juan Martin Del Potro in London four years later.
But the 34-year-old has a chance to go for yet another bronze on Saturday in the mixed doubles, partnering Nina Stojanovic against Australian pair Ash Barty and John Peers.
World No.11 Carreno Busta wasted a match point in the second set tiebreak but the Spaniard never looked back after taking a quick 3-0 lead in the third for victory in two hours, 47 minutes.
Carreno Busta also beat Djokovic at last year’s US Open but that was after the Serb was disqualified in the first set when a ball he hit in frustration hit a lineswoman.
On Saturday, Djokovic sent one racquet flying into the stands early in the third set and got a warning for destroying another one as the final set turned in favour of his opponent.
Carreno Busta won the opening set thanks to a break in the fifth game. Djokovic saved match point with a service winner at 6-5 in the tiebreak and levelled the sets.
But a quick break decided the bronze medal clash as Carreno Busta finally wrapped up matters on his sixth match point.
Meanwhile, women’s doubles bronze went to Brazil’s Laura Pigossi and Luisa Stefani who saved four match points in the third set to beat Russia Olympic Committee’s Veronica Kudermatova and Elena Vesnina 4-6 6-4 11-9.