Olympics or US Open – which will be harder for Djokovic to win?

Olympics or US Open – which will be harder for Djokovic to win?

The Golden Slam is on for Novak Djokovic. With three Grand Slams already in the bag this year, world No 1 Djokovic will be aiming to become the first male player in history to win all four majors and Olympic gold in the same year.

Djokovic is set to go for gold in Japan next week, with the tennis event starting in Tokyo on June 24, and will then compete at the US Open from August 30.

But which of his two remaining goals in 2021 will be harder to win?

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The case for the Olympics

For all his success elsewhere, Djokovic is yet to crack the Olympics.

His best result so far was in 2008 when he won bronze after losing to Rafael Nadal in the semi-finals. In 2012 he came fourth after defeat to Juan Martin del Potro in the bronze medal match, and Del Potro would prove to be his nemesis again in a shock first-round loss in 2016. Djokovic was left in tears after the defeat and told Andy Murray in an Instagram chat last year that his Olympic disappointments still linger.

Asked by Murray which result from his career he would change if he could, Djokovic said: “I think it would be related to Olympic Games.

“For sure, I was very fortunate to have the great success in my career and win all four Slams and all Masters series. I did win bronze in Beijing, but… if I had a chance to turn back time and change the outcomes, it would probably be Rio or London.”

With a depleted field in Tokyo following several high-profile withdrawals, Djokovic will start as a strong favourite to win gold. Only four other top-10 players are competing and none of them come into the tournament in particularly strong form.

However, all of them have had a far longer post-Wimbledon break than Djokovic, with the tennis event in Tokyo starting two weeks after the final at the All England Club.

Novak Djokovic at the 2016 Olympics

Image credit: Getty Images

The world No 1 only confirmed his decision to play at the Olympics late last week after saying that he was “50-50” to take part. One of the potential deciding factors for Djokovic was the lack of fans watching in Tokyo. Djokovic seems to thrive in front of a crowd, particularly a partisan one, and is there a chance – after playing front of capacity crowds for the semi-finals and final at Wimbledon – his level will drop in an empty stadium?

Another reason why Djokovic was having second thoughts over the Games was the limitations on the number of people allowed to travel with athletes. That could impact him, as could the fact Olympics matches are played over three sets rather than five sets as they are at Grand Slams, leaving less margin for error. In previous years the final was a five-set match but even that will now be a three-set contest. Djokovic has been unbeatable over five sets in 2021, but over three could he be more vulnerable?

Plus there’s the pressure of winning for Serbia. Djokovic has said he is “very proud” to represent his country at the Olympics and was clearly heartbroken after missing out on the chance to win gold in 2016. Speaking about his decision to play in Tokyo, he said: “It came down to patriotism and my feelings for Serbia”. Will he finally win gold at the Games this year?

The case for the US Open

There’s no getting away from the fact that if Djokovic wins Olympic gold then he will be under enormous pressure at the US Open. Not only will he be seven wins away from the Golden Slam, but there’s also the history from last year when he was disqualified for hitting the ball in frustration towards a line judge.

Djokovic has only won the US Open three times (2011, 2015 and 2018) and has exited in the fourth round on his last two appearances. There will likely be a far stronger field in New York than there is in Tokyo, with defending champion Dominic Thiem potentially back along with Stan Wawrinka, who beat Djokovic in the 2016 final, and Rafael Nadal.

How Djokovic copes with the pressure – and a lively crowd – could be the key factor.

Wimbledon recap: Djokovic wins 20th Grand Slam title with win over Berrettini

After winning Wimbledon he spoke about nerves and how they had impacted his game as he chased a record-equalling 20th Grand Slam title.

“I have definitely felt slightly more nervous than I usually feel at the beginning of today’s match, particularly the first set. I think after the first set was done, I just felt relief. Obviously it was not great that I lost the first set, but on the other hand I just felt like I just wanted to get this first set over with so I could just start to swing through the ball and play the way I want to play.

“It’s probably due to the nerves, big occasion, finals of Wimbledon, history on the line.”

Even more history will be on the line in New York – and it’s hard not to think back to Serena Williams falling short in 2015 with the calendar Slam in her sights. Williams was shocked in the semi-finals by world No 43 Roberta Vinci in one of the biggest upsets in recent memory.

Serena Williams lost to Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals of the 2015 US Open

Image credit: Getty Images

Williams denied that the pressure had got to her, but six-time US Open champion Chris Evert was in no doubt. “I saw a frozen Serena Williams. I saw a paralysed Serena Williams. She succumbed to the nerves. She is human.”

Roger Federer’s former coach Paul Annacone thinks the more Djokovic wins the harder it will become for him.

“Novak Djokovic will be the toughest obstacle for Novak Djokovic’s road to the Golden Slam,” Annacone said on Tennis Channel in June. “What I mean by that is – the immense amount of pressure, the more he wins, the more he will know that he wins, and the more self-imposed pressure he will put on. And also the more external pressure.”

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