Novak Djokovic arrived at the Tokyo Olympic Games with plans to take a significant step toward an unprecedented golden Grand Slam. He leaves without a medal of any colour after losing his cool in the bronze-medal match defeat to Spain's Pablo Carreno Busta.
Djokovic, 34, saw his gold medal hopes dashed on Friday when Germany's Alexander Zverev fought back to win their semi-final. That defeat ended the Serb's hopes of becoming the first man to win all four major titles and Olympic gold in the same year having already won the Australian Open, Roland Garros, and Wimbledon.
Aiming to bounce back to ensure he didn't leave Tokyo empty-handed, Djokovic fell to a 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 loss to world No 11 Carreno Busta.
It is the first time top seed Djokovic has lost two straight singles matches since defeats by Dominic Thiem and Roger Federer at the 2019 ATP Tour Finals.
The match was a gripping encounter played over two hours and 47 minutes in the suffocating Tokyo heat, with both men desperate to secure a medal.
Djokovic, who will bid to win the final leg of the calendar Grand Slam at the US Open, which starts next month, saved a match point in the second set tie-break to force a decider and then four more late in the third set.
But Spaniard Carreno Busta, who also knocked out second seed Daniil Medvedev earlier in the tournament, struck 32 winners in an excellent performance, with Djokovic managing just 18. The 30-year-old finally wrapped up victory in a lengthy final game when his illustrious opponent put a forehand into the net.
Djokovic brought back memories of his infamous default against Carreno Busta last year at the US Open, when he inadvertently struck a ball at a line judge.
He thew his racquet high into the empty stands as he saw a break point come and go in the opening game of the third set and continued to cut an angry figure, destroying another racquet after a miss at the net.
Djokovic did have a second chance to add to his 2008 Olympic singles bronze later on Saturday when he was scheduled, alongside Nina Stojanovic, to take on Australians Ashleigh Barty and John Peers in the mixed doubles third-place play-off, but he announced his withdrawal after his loss to Carreno Busta, citing a shoulder injury.