A day after a heartbreaking loss to Alexander Zverev in the semifinals, Novak Djokovic showed all kinds of heart after losing the first set to Pablo Carreno Busta in the bronze medal match, fighting off a match point in the second set and pushing it to a third—but in the end it just wasn’t to be, and the rock solid Spaniard won the bronze, 6-4, 6-7 (6), 6-3.
Carreno Busta not only captured his first Olympic medal of any kind, but he was also Spain’s last hope at an Olympic medal in tennis at the Tokyo Olympics—and he came through. Since tennis returned to the Olympics in 1988, Spain has now won at least one medal in tennis at eight of nine Olympics, with London in 2012 being the only exception.
After fighting off break point in each of his first two service games to start the match, Carreno Busta drew first blood, breaking Djokovic at love for 3-2. The two then traded holds until the first set was over, with Carreno Busta ripping a 118mph ace out wide on the ad side—the first ace for either player in the match—to take the opening set.
The two stayed strong on serve throughout the second set, with 12 straight holds—and zero break point opportunities—as the two headed to a tie-break. After watching an early 4-1 lead evaporate to 4-all, Djokovic faced a match point serving at 5-6 in the breaker, but he erased it with an unreturnable 120mph serve out wide. He then blasted a forehand winner (after a 124mph serve) to bring up his first set point at 7-6, and a Carreno Busta forehand unforced error after a long rally sent the contest to a third and deciding set.
The decider began much like the first, with Carreno Busta saving a break point to hold for 1-0, but this time he struck right away, breaking for 2-0 and then holding for 3-0. Djokovic kept fighting, staying on serve with Carreno Busta from there, but he just couldn’t get the break back, and the Spaniard eventually served it out after a long final game where Djokovic fought off another four match points, including two with pinpoint winners.
But one last forehand into the net from Djokovic gave Carreno Busta the victory after two hours and 47 minutes, and the Spaniard dropped to the court in celebration.