BEIJING (Reuters) - Serbia’s Novak Djokovic won the first medal of the Olympic tennis tournament on Saturday, beating American James Blake 6-3 7-6 to go home with bronze.
The world number three, narrowly beaten by Spain’s Rafael Nadal in a stunning semi-final on Friday, fell to his knees after the final point before unfurling a Serbian flag and launching his rackets and shirt into the crowd.
“I’m very, very happy. I mean, to win any medal in the Olympics is a huge achievement for any athlete I think,” the 21-year-old Australian Open champion told reporters.
“Not many athletes get a chance to win a medal. But for me, this bronze, which I won here, shines like a gold because I think I’ve played all tournament pretty good tennis.”
Djojovic broke early in the first set and was rock solid throughout against a slow-starting Blake, who said later it had been a struggle to fire himself up after losing to Chile’s Fernando Gonzalez in Friday’s semi-finals.
“I think it was tough mentally because for tennis players we’re conditioned to play, play, play until we lose, and then it’s on to the next week,” the 28-year-old, who produced the biggest shock here by beating Roger Federer in the last eight, told reporters. “It’s not play another match tomorrow.”
Blake made a scrap of it in the second set and Djokovic became rattled, smashing his racket frame at 4-4.
However, he regained his trademark intensity to move ahead 6-4 in a high-quality tiebreak and sealed victory when Blake rushed a backhand into the tramlines.
Sunday’s men’s singles gold medal decider is between second seed Nadal and Gonzalez, who is chasing a third Olympic medal after winning a doubles gold and singles bronze four years ago in Athens.
Editing by Alex Richardson