The men's road cycling race is a standout event as dreams will turn into a reality a year later than athletes might have hoped for at the Tokyo Olympics on Saturday.

After Naomi Osaka lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony on Friday, Tour de France champion Tadej Pogacar will be striving to light up the opening day of competition.

Pogacar goes for gold less than a week after the Slovenian sensation retained his Tour title in Paris and it will be an incredible achievement if he is on top of the podium again.

There will also be archery, judo, shooting, taekwondo and weightlifting titles up for grabs on the first day of the Games 12 months after they were due to be contested.

Stats Perform pick out what to look out for on Saturday.

 

POGACAR FACES ANOTHER HUGE STAMINA TEST

Pogacar dominated the Tour de France and is the favourite to follow that up with Olympic gold in what promises to be a thrilling road race.

His compatriot Primoz Roglic is another strong contender for gold, while Canada's Michael Woods and Spaniard Alejandro Valverde will start the race with high hopes of securing a medal.

Belgian duo Remco Evenepoel and Wout van Aert are also expected to be in the mix.

The 234-kilometre course starts at Musashinonomori Park and finishes at the Fuji International Speedway and features five big ascents, including one on Mount Fuji.

 

HIGH HOPES FOR JAPANESE JUDOKAS

There will be no spectators to provide support, but that is not expected to stop Japanese judokas from setting the standard once again.

The host nation has 39 gold, 19 silver and 26 bronze medals in judo, making it the only sport the country tops the all-time Olympic medal table in.

Naoki Ogata, technical operations manager with the International Judo Federation, is setting the bar high with his expectations on home soil.

"No doubt, we want a gold medal in all weight categories," said Ogata.

 

DJOKOVIC IN HUNT FOR GOLDEN SLAM

Novak Djokovic has already won three of the four majors this year and an Olympic title would leave him heading to the US Open knowing victory would complete the Golden Slam.

The world number one from Serbia plays Hugo Dellien of Bolivia when the men's singles starts on Saturday, while Poland's Iga Swiatek is among the standout players in action in the women's singles - which she begins against Mona Barthel.

There is also women's and men's doubles action on Saturday. 

The pick of the other events to be getting under way will be artistic gymnastics, badminton, swimming, boxing, hockey and rowing.

Novak Djokovic has been burned by high expectations at the Olympics before, so it was little surprise that he should express only guarded optimism on the eve of the Tokyo Games.

The Serbian, who has won the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon already in 2021, is chasing the gold medal that would leave him one step away from the first tennis calendar 'Golden Slam' by a man.

Should he triumph in Japan over the next fortnight, Djokovic will head to the US Open in late August needing to win in New York to complete the full set.

Steffi Graf, who in 1988 won all the slams and gold at the Seoul Olympics, is the only player in tennis history to have completed such a sensational season.

Djokovic said such a feat was becoming a "more and more realistic" target, as he spoke in a Serbia team news conference, but the last time he stepped off the singles court at an Olympic Games, he was in tears, having lost in the first round at Rio to Juan Martin del Potro.

There is no danger of Djokovic running into his Olympic nemesis in Tokyo, with Del Potro, who also beat Djokovic in a bronze-medal match at the London 2012 Olympics, not a part of Argentina's squad as he battles back from four knee operations.

Looking at his own prospects for Tokyo and the rest of the year, Djokovic said: "It is still a long way to go ... I put myself in a very good position. But I will take things very slowly and cautiously.

"It's an approach I need to have because in the past I wasn't probably fully experienced in that approach. And I started to feel there were a lot of distractions around that influenced my performance.

"I know there are a lot of things on the line, a lot of history on the line. I'm privileged to be in this position. I worked very hard to be here, with my team, of course. But let's talk about history if everything goes great."

After his singles loss in Rio, Djokovic and Nenad Zimonjic lost in the second round of doubles to Brazilians Bruno Soares and Marcelo Melo.

A bronze from Beijing 2008 is all Djokovic has to show for his Olympics career to date, but he is a hot favourite for the title in Tokyo, where he will start against Bolivia's world number 139 Hugo Dellien.

The 34-year-old Djokovic said he "would be delighted to ask" Graf how she achieved her 1988 clean sweep.

"When I was thinking about her ultimate achievement ... I did not think it... I don't want to say 'achievable', but [I thought] there was a slim chance that someone could make it again, both male and female," Djokovic said.

"But right now it seems more and more realistic. Of course, it is one of my goals and dreams."

Djokovic has neither Roger Federer nor Rafael Nadal as rivals in Tokyo, with Federer missing after reporting a knee injury setback and Nadal electing to give the event a miss.

The 'Big Three' each have 20 grand slam titles now, following Djokovic's hot streak, and the Serbian admits it is unusual for both superstars to be absent.

"I have not experienced too many big tournaments in the past 15 years without Roger and Rafa playing. So it's a little bit strange," Djokovic said. "I'm used to seeing at least one of them. But still, some of the best players in the world are here.

"The guys who are in the top six, seven in the world, they are the biggest competitors or candidates for winning a medal. But potentially I am meeting with them in the later rounds."

After winning Wimbledon for a sixth time, Djokovic surprised many by claiming he could skip the Olympics, but he was reeled in by the appeal of representing his country, perhaps for the final time in the Games.

"Without the key element of any sports events – the crowds, the fans, that energy – it's different, but it is still the Olympic Games," he said.

"I was in a dilemma for a little bit, but I decided to come, and I'm glad because there are many more things that are beautiful about the Olympic Games. So I will try to focus on those things."

Ash Barty and home favourite Naomi Osaka start their respective quests for Olympic gold against Sara Sorribes Tormo and Zheng Saisai, while Novak Djokovic opens against Hugo Dellien.

In a stacked women's draw, world number one and Wimbledon champion Barty has a tough opening assignment and could face French Open finalist Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the 13th seed, as early as round three.

Spectators may not be in attendance at Tokyo venues for the Olympics but Japanese fans will be rooting for Osaka, who returns to action after a two-month hiatus with the four-time grand slam winner having spoken openly about mental health and anxiety issues.

Viktorija Golubic or Maria Camila Osorio Serrano would await Osaka if she can get through round one, but a dream final with Barty is no shoo-in given 15 of the world's top 20 on the WTA Tour are in action including each of the nine leading the race for the 2021 WTA Finals.

Aryna Sabalenka (3), Elina Svitolina (4), Wimbledon runner-up Karolina Pliskova (5), Iga Swiatek (6) and Garbine Muguruza are all featuring in Tokyo.

 

The men's side has been hit by a spate of withdrawals, with Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Dominic Thiem among those not playing in the Japanese capital.

The main talking point surrounds whether the all-conquering Djokovic can continue his march towards a calendar Golden Slam – a sweep of all four majors and an Olympic gold in the same year.

Any notion of a free ride for the Serbian is wide of the mark, though. His side of the draw could see him come up against Andrey Rublev (5), Alexander Zverev (4) and Hubert Hurkacz (7), while Stefano Tsitsipas (3) – beaten by Djokovic in the French Open final – and Daniil Medvedev (2) are among the potential final opponents.

Andy Murray, gold medal winner in 2012 and 2016, faces Canada's Felix Auger-Aliassime in a tricky first-round match.

Novak Djokovic has leapt from one bubble into another as he attempts to become the first man in tennis history to win all four grand slams and Olympic gold in the same year.

The only men to have won each of the singles majors across their careers, plus Olympic gold, are Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal, and now Djokovic aims to move to the brink of winning all five in his remarkable 2021 season.

Fresh from dominating at Wimbledon, and with the Australian and French Open titles already in the bag, Djokovic heads into the Tokyo Games as a red-hot favourite, seeking to set himself up to complete a historic campaign at the US Open.

Naomi Osaka will enter the Games with almost as much expectation behind her too, the reigning US Open and Australian Open champion eyeing glory for hosts Japan.

But tennis has thrown up a host of shock results in its short Olympic history. Here, Stats Perform looks at the sport's place in the Games.

 

WHO'S IN, WHO'S OUT, AND WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?

Serena Williams, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have all opted out of the Olympics.

Williams made her mind up prior to suffering a leg injury at Wimbledon, although she is already a member of the career Golden Slam club.

Federer reached his decision after revealing he also suffered a physical setback at the All England Club, and Nadal elected to take a two-month break after relinquishing his French Open title.

Don't expect to see them again at the Olympics, given Williams and Federer will be pushing 43 by Paris 2024, and Nadal will be 38. Federer won a doubles gold with Stan Wawrinka in 2008, but his singles peak was the silver medal he earned in 2012, Andy Murray crushing Swiss hopes in the final at Wimbledon.

Dominic Thiem, Bianca Andreescu, Nick Kyrgios, Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka and Denis Shapovalov are among other confirmed absentees, with fitness issues a factor for some, less so for others.

The COVID-19 crisis is a mitigating factor in why so many stars are staying away, and directly responsible in the case of some players, such as Britain's Johanna Konta and Dan Evans, who both tested positive recently.

But tennis was only fully restored to the Olympic programme in 1988, after being dropped post 1924, and if players are seen to be favouring the grand slams over the Games, that is not such a great look for the sport.

At a time when the International Olympic Committee has shown it is willing to shake up the sports on its programme, tennis could perhaps do with a headline-making Tokyo 2020.

Murray, the two-time defending men's champion, will target an improbable hat-trick. A hat-trick for the injury-hit former world number one would be a sensation, and Osaka landing gold in the women's tournament would surely be one of the great moments of the Games.

 

DJOKOVIC FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF GRAF

When Steffi Graf beat Gabriela Sabatini in the women's singles final at Seoul, it completed what we know now as the calendar 'Golden Slam'. She had already won the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, and the feat of the then 19-year-old West German has yet to be repeated.

Now Djokovic is three-fifths of the way to a similar clean sweep of the majors and the Olympics, with the US Open getting under way on August 30 in New York.

He teetered on not going to Tokyo, and perhaps he is to some extent endangering his chances at Flushing Meadows by spending more time travelling and enduring bubble life, while others rest up.

But Djokovic is a fiercely proud Serbian and could not resist a great chance of winning gold for his country. He landed bronze at the 2008 Games in Beijing but in 2012 he lost to Juan Martin del Potro in the bronze-medal match, and a cruel draw at Rio four years later saw him assigned Del Potro in the first round.

Top seed Djokovic bowed out in two tie-breaks to the powerful Argentinian, describing the outcome as "one of the toughest losses in my career".

There is no danger of a hat-trick of defeats to Del Potro, which may help Djokovic. Del Potro has been battling for two years to get back to fitness, undergoing four rounds of right knee surgery in a bid to get back on tour.

 

RAISING THE BAR AT THE OLYMPICS

How the Olympic village functions in Tokyo will be distinctly different to at previous Games, given the pandemic restrictions in place that could be a real buzzkill.

But in the past there have been countless cases of athletes becoming inspired by their surroundings and going on to perform above their usual level.

It can be a party village, and it can also be an eyebrow-raising experience as global superstars rub shoulders with competitors who might struggle for recognition in their home towns. More than anything, the shared team experience, fighting for a collective cause, can make a middling athlete believe they can be great.

Monica Puig was a massive tennis outsider in 2016 but the then world number 34 won the women's singles, stunning Angelique Kerber in the final after beating Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza en route. That gave Puerto Rico their first ever Olympic gold medal.

In 1992, a tournament that featured the likes of Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker finished with a staggering final match-up of Marc Rosset versus Jordi Arrese, who in his home city of Barcelona was edged out 8-6 in the fifth set by the Swiss world number 43. Nobody would have predicted that head to head for gold.

Similarly, at Athens 2004, Nicolas Massu beat Mardy Fish in the gold medal match of a tournament that featured Federer, Andy Roddick, Carlos Moya and Tim Henman.

In the 1996 Atlanta Games, Lindsay Davenport, who had just turned 20, took inspiration from being the daughter of an Olympian, with dad Wink having played volleyball for the United States at Mexico City in 1968.

Davenport was beginning to make an impact on the WTA Tour but was only the ninth seed at the Olympics, yet she swept through the rounds before sinking Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 7-6 (10-8) 6-2 in the final.

"It's like one of those things I look back on and I'm like, 'Was that me?'," Davenport told The Tennis Podcast last year.

"It doesn't seem like it was real. I'd made the transition to the pro tour pretty well, but I liked hanging out between eight and 16 in the rankings. I was very insecure, unsure of what could I do. I liked doing well but I wasn't sure I wanted to do too well because it seemed really overwhelming to be one of those top players.

"Here I go at 20 years old to Atlanta for two or three weeks, in a setting that seemed so comfortable. Look at all these athletes, you have all different shapes and sizes, you have players that are really working hard but have so much in common and you get to hang out with them, breakfast, lunch, dinner in the village."

Davenport was a future world number one and three-time grand slam singles champion, but at this point in her career being an American at an Olympics in the United States was just a thrill.

"You're sharing this with your team-mates who are some of my best friends in Mary Joe Fernandez, Monica Seles. It was the best time ever," she said.

"By the time the tournament actually started we were like, 'Yeah, I'll go play my match and then we'll go back to the village and we'll hang out', and everything went so fast in those few weeks.

"And there I was left standing, winning at the end because I was so incredibly happy and excited with everything that was going on. I kind of forgot what was my job.

"When it became a reality of even just making the team in '96, it was so huge also for my family with having a second generation Olympian."

Wimbledon champion Ash Barty has "a great chance" of securing Olympic glory for Australia in Tokyo.

That is the view of former Wimbledon winner Pat Cash, though he warned there is plenty of scope for upsets in both the men's and women's singles.

Monica Puig claimed a surprise victory at Rio 2016 - then ranked 34th, she stunned Angelique Kerber in the final after beating Petra Kvitova and Garbine Muguruza en route to give Puerto Rico their first-ever gold medal.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic are two greats on the men's side who have not tasted Olympic glory, something the Serbian will look to put right this year as he pursues a Golden Slam.

Cash, though, would not be surprised to see the Olympics throw up another surprise result, even though he hopes to see compatriot Barty come out on top in the women's tournament.

He told Stats Perform: "The women's draw is very, very even. If you don't play well in one of those matches, you're out. 

"There's no such thing as an easy first round really in a tournament such as the Olympics, particularly the men’s side where it's best of three sets. So if you slip up, you're gone. 

"There's no chance of coming back from two sets to one down, because it's over. So that's trickier for somebody like Djokovic who can typically run people into the ground.

"Ash has got a great chance of winning the Olympics, but I think probably there's 30 girls who think they can do that as well and they're probably right. 

"We've seen some unusual results in the Olympics and shorter form tournaments like that, also on the men's side.

"It's very hard to say, but obviously, [Barty] is in great form and full of confidence - that goes a long way to winning a gold medal."

 

There have been a host of high-profile withdrawals from the tennis in Tokyo.

Rafael Nadal, Federer, Dominic Thiem, Matteo Berrettini, Serena Williams, Sofia Kenin, Simona Halep and Coco Gauff among a large list of top players who will be missing.

Some absences were unavoidable due to injuries or positive coronavirus cases but some players have opted to rest amid a hectic calendar, avoiding Japan's strict COVID-19 rules in the process.

Cash has mixed views on the subject but does feel playing at the Olympics should be seen as a rare and valuable opportunity.

"I think I think they would [look back fondly at winning a medal]," said Cash.

"It’s certainly one of the regrets in my career that I didn't play the Olympics [in 1988]. I had a niggling injury and decided to rest. 

"Looking back, I thought I could have won a medal, maybe even a gold medal. I would have probably given it a really good shot. 

"In my era it wasn't the pinnacle. I think Novak Djokovic has talked about that now, he said, ‘The main thing for me is winning slams, they're the pinnacle of our game’. 

"But to win a gold medal, it's pretty cool. You'll find that the players who do win a gold medal, if you tell the grandkids, 'I won a Wimbledon trophy' or 'I won a gold medal', they’ll go, 'Oh, where’s the gold medal?'

"Having said that, there's a lot of players who aren't playing the Olympics this year. Certainly for a few years, it was a novelty - I'm not sure if it's wearing off or not. 

"But to perform for your country, I think is an honour and we haven't had the opportunity to do that much in the last couple of years. 

"With the Davis Cup, the men's competition is really just a fading, unfortunately, dying competition, which not many people really care about any more.

"That's very, very sad, so the Olympics is often the best opportunity to represent your country."

 

Cash delved deeper into the dilemma players are likely to have faced.

"I wouldn't put any criticism on anybody for the personal choice after these last 18 months," he said. "It's their choice, everybody's got a different journey in this and it's part of their careers. 

"With COVID and all that sort of stuff that's going on - the bubbles - some of the stresses are unknown like being away from family and friends for months on end and not actually have any break. 

"Everybody's got their own different stories, some of them are injured, some were coming back from injury, some think 'I'm not going to make a trip to Japan' - with all the restrictions it's not going be fun. 

"It's not going to be a fun Games where you can go there and watch the other athletes. In Los Angeles [the 1984 Games] the highlight was actually to go and watch the track events, which I did.

"That's not going to happen, you're in a hotel, you're in the village or, you're gonna go straight to the tennis and back only to a certain area of the village, I think it's going to be locked down for tennis players only. 

"You may not be able to mingle with the other athletes. So I think a lot of the fun has been taken out of this. 

"But again, it's representing your country and trying to get trying to get a gold medal. So some players will go to great lengths to do that."

Novak Djokovic has confirmed he will enter the Olympic Games in Tokyo, with the world number one just two titles away from a first men's Golden Slam.

Rivals Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, citing respective scheduling and injury issues, have each withdrawn from Tokyo 2020.

But Djokovic confirmed on Thursday he will travel to Japan in pursuit of a groundbreaking achievement.

Only women's tour legend Steffi Graf has previously won all four majors and the Olympics in the same year, doing so in 1988.

Doubles superstars Bob and Mike Bryan held all five titles at once but collected them across 2012 and 2013, while Andre Agassi and Nadal are the only two men's singles players to achieve the feat across an entire career.

Djokovic has already triumphed at the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon in 2021, leaving Tokyo and the US Open still to conquer.

The 20-time grand slam champion – a record he tied at the All England Club on Sunday – has entered the Games three times previously but earned only a single bronze medal. Andy Murray is the two-time defending champion.

At Flushing Meadows, Djokovic is a three-time winner.

The 34-year-old confirmed his Olympics plans in a social media post as he sent a message to a young Japanese fan celebrating his sixth birthday.

"Cannot disappoint my little friend Koujirou," Djokovic wrote. "I booked my flight for Tokyo and will proudly be joining #TeamSerbia for the Olympics."

He had said following his Wimbledon win last week: "My plan was always to go to Olympic Games, but right now I'm a little bit divided."

Djokovic added limitations on his travelling party and potentially being unable to watch fellow athletes had reduced the likelihood of an appearance to "50-50".

But he will now feature, even if former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash believes the calendar Grand Slam – winning the four majors but not the Olympics – has to be the Serbian's priority.

Cash told Stats Perform: "It's the Olympics, okay – maybe he wants to do that, but certainly his goal is now to try and win all four grand slams in the calendar year.

"He has done four in a row, but he hasn't done them in the same year, which is very, very tough to do.

"There is a reason why I think one person has done it in [men's] professional tennis – Rod Laver and it was in 1969, so it's not easy to do.

"But I really do think it's in his sights and that has got to be his priority.

"It's absolutely the absolute peak of our sport to win all four grand slams in one year."

Novak Djokovic will never have a better opportunity to achieve a historic calendar Grand Slam, which former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash says he should prioritise at all costs.

The Serbian won a sixth Wimbledon crown on Sunday, defeating Matteo Berrettini in four sets to achieve a final victory that moved him on to 20 grand slam titles.

With Australian Open and French Open successes also already achieved, glory at the US Open would see Djokovic become only the second men's player in Open Era history to win all four majors in the same year.

Cash thinks the stars have aligned for Djokovic, with issues for his main rivals leaving the 34-year-old primed to achieve the famous feat in 2021.

"The impossible dream really is there," Cash said to Stats Perform.

"For Novak this year it is a great opportunity for him to grab a bunch of grand slams and grab all the titles. 

"Certainly Wimbledon – without disrespecting the other players – was one of the weaker men's side draws that I've seen in many, many years. 

"And that's because we've got two of the big stars coming back from injuries – Andy Murray and Roger Federer – who played well but weren't at the peak of their career.

"The younger players are coming through but they're not quite there yet and Novak is just sitting on top of that mountain as the King of the Castle.

"His performance was exceptional at Wimbledon, there's no doubts about it. 

"The slightly younger players are coming through – Berrettini obviously in the final really pushed him to just about the limit.

"Stefanos Tsitsipas in the French Open final up two sets to love. So, these guys are close, very close, and it won't be long before they catch up with Novak and the others. 

"Obviously Rafa [Nadal] was out of this Wimbledon as well – I don't really think he's a serious threat on the grass anymore but he's still a great competitor. 

"So these guys are catching up, Rafa is still there, maybe Murray will come back and Federer will come back and be in better shape in the next year – but this is the year that Novak can really grab." 

 

Djokovic admitted this week he is still "50/50" over whether he will take part in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus countermeasures in the Japanese capital. 

Federer withdrew from the tournament on Tuesday and Cash insists Tokyo will not be the priority over glory in New York for Djokovic.

Cash added: "It's the Olympics, okay – maybe he wants to do that, but certainly his goal is now to try and win all four grand slams in the calendar year.

"He has done four in a row, but he hasn't done them in the same year, which is very, very tough to do. 

"There is a reason why I think one person has done it in [men's] professional tennis – Rod Laver and it was in 1969, so it's not easy to do. 

"But I really do think it's in his sights and that has got to be his priority. 

"It's absolutely the absolute peak of our sport to win all four grand slams in one year." 

With Djokovic now level with Federer and Nadal on 20 majors, Cash would not be surprised to see him build a big lead.

He added: "Look, it's very hard to say. We have all been proven wrong by the numbers. 

"Though most of us thought that Rafa and Novak would get pretty close to Federer, we didn't really think they'd get there and beyond. 

"I think Novak is likely to win another couple, but you know, it takes us one little injury [to derail him] so it is very hard to say.

"John McEnroe said 25 or so [for Djokovic] and that could be well within his reach at the moment. 

"He's improving and that's frightening to think. He's won 19 grand slams before Wimbledon, and all of a sudden we've seen this guy come to the net, volley, add another string to his bow to become a better player. 

"Yeah, age 34 and he is improving – that's pretty frightening." 

Novak Djokovic has admitted he is still "50/50" over whether he will take part in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics due to coronavirus countermeasures put in place in the Japanese capital.

The world number one made history on Sunday by beating Matteo Berrettini in the Wimbledon final to match Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slam titles.

Djokovic has won all three majors in 2021 and recently suggested he would represent Serbia at this year's Olympics, with the tennis tournament due to begin on July 24.

However, with organisers this week confirming spectators will be banned from attending events in Tokyo amid rising coronavirus cases, Djokovic is unsure if he will travel to Japan.

"My plan was always to go to Olympic Games, but right now I'm a little bit divided," he said after his sixth Wimbledon triumph. 

"I also hear that there's going to be a lot of restrictions within the [Athletes'] Village. Possibly you would not be able to see other athletes perform live. 

"I can't even have my stringer that is very important part of my team. I can't have a stringer. I'm limited with the amount of people I can take in my team as well.

"It's kind of 50-50 because of what I heard in the last couple days."

 

Djokovic has competed at the Games on three previous occasions, but unlike Nadal and Federer he has never previously claimed a gold medal, the bronze he won in 2008 being the best the 34-year-old has managed.

Nadal, Dominic Thiem, Roberto Bautista Agut, Denis Shapovalov, Nick Kyrgios, Simona Halep and Serena Williams have previously confirmed they will not play at the Olympics.

Switzerland's Federer, who won gold in the men's doubles in Beijing 13 years ago, has yet to make a decision on his participation.

A golden age deserves a Golden Slam, and who would bet against Novak Djokovic achieving that now?

This extraordinary Serbian has chased down Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal in the grand slam race, joining them on 20 majors as he became the first $150million man in tennis.

When he raced up to the players' box and butted heads out of joy with Goran Ivanisevic, his coach, Djokovic was living out another magnificent moment in a career jammed with them.

This is now three successive Wimbledon titles and six in all at the All England Club for Djokovic.

More than that though, he is the first player since Rod Laver in 1969 to win the first three grand slams of a season, and the Olympic Games and US Open are still to come.

Steffi Graf is the only player in tennis history to have won all four majors and an Olympic gold in the same year, the great German doing so in 1988. Graf could soon have company in the record books, because Djokovic looks unstoppable.

When Matteo Berrettini snatched the opening set here on a tie-break, there were omens that said it would be the Italian's day. The grand slam final newcomer had a 22-0 winning record from the times when he previously won the first set in grass-court matches.

Djokovic had other ideas.

The 34-year-old is a case study in triumphant self-improvement, forever seeking ways to bolster his chances of winning, whether it be veganism, meditation or relentless hard yakka on the training court.

He wound up many with his views on vaccinations, and triggered others, including Federer, Nadal and Andy Murray, last August by fronting a new Professional Tennis Players Association at a time when the sport's existing off-court leaders were battling to cope amid the pandemic.

And he will never be as loved on Centre Court as Federer, Nadal and Murray, those other members of the Big Four. It's something he is coming to terms with.

"He means well but sometimes he doesn't come across," said Boris Becker on the BBC.

But what Djokovic does on court remains wondrous and his achievements are reaching new heights.

In grand slam terms, it is now a three-man crowd on 20 titles. Tennis can throw up surprises, but Djokovic is a firm favourite to break away and finish alone on top of the pile.

"It means none of us will stop, that's what it means," Djokovic said, as he reflected on matching his great rivals. "They're legends of our sport and they are the two most important players that I ever faced in my career. They are the reason where I am today.

"They helped me realise what I need to do to get stronger mentally, physically and tactically."

Federer could yet decide the time has come to quit, perhaps even before the US Open comes around, while Nadal, when he returns from his mid-season hiatus, may rise to the challenge in New York.

Yet Djokovic made his intentions quite clear when asked about the prospect of sealing a clean sweep of 2021's biggest titles at Flushing Meadows.

"I could defijnitely envision that happening," he said. "I'm hoping I'm going to give it a shot. "I'm in great form, I'm obviously playing well, and playing my best tennis at grand slams is the highest priority I have at this stage of my career, so let's keep it going."

Twenty years ago, wild card Ivanisevic won this title behind some of the greatest serving ever witnessed.

Against Berrettini and throughout Wimbledon, Djokovic demonstrated how much that shot has become such a vital play for him too.

Djokovic came into this title match with the best percentage record of first-serve points won in the tournament (85 per cent). Berrettini had served the most aces, but Djokovic sat a healthy third on that list too.

Like Cristiano Ronaldo in football, Djokovic has found new ways to prolong his stay at the top of his profession, and Ivanisevic has had a big part to play in that over the past two years.

Djokovic had 209 aces from 30 matches this year before launching into his Wimbledon mission, and he has added 68 in seven matches over this fortnight.

That represents a big step-up from where he was five years ago, when in a year that saw him win the Australian and French Opens and reach the US Open final he served a modest 276 aces in 72 matches. He has gone from serving close to four aces a match to seven. And while he will never launches aces in the manner of an Ivanisevic, he is still finding ways to develop his game.

Ronaldo has become increasingly a penalty area predator rather than a player who causes chaos across the football pitch. From the 2008-09 season to the 2013-14 campaign, Ronaldo scored at least eight goals per season from outside the 18-yard box, but over the past four seasons the most he has managed has been three.

Where once many of his goals came from fast breaks out of defence, now those are collectors' items.

The greatest find a way to sustain greatness and Djokovic is similarly working on building up the weaponry that allows him to extend his career well into his mid-thirties.

He won 79 per cent of first-serve points against Berrettini, who had a success rate of 76 per cent. And although he was out-aced 16-5 on this occasion, it was Djokovic's consistency that won out.

His athleticism remains astonishing. Trailing 3-2 in the fourth set, Djokovic dashed from the baseline to the net to track down a drop shot that would have beaten most, but he clipped the ball across court for a winner that even had Berrettini smiling.

The game was not yet up, but in essence it was. How do you beat this guy?

Djokovic now owns a 20-10 win-loss record in grand slam finals. Only Federer, who has reached 31 of those matches, has played in more.

Djokovic has won seven of the past eight slam finals he has contested. He has triumphed in six of his seven Wimbledon finals – the exception being his 2013 loss to Murray.

Tokyo awaits now, and then New York.

All that prize-money, all that he has achieved already, and Djokovic remains ravenous for more.

Roger Federer is proud to play in an era of tennis which he labelled as "special" after Novak Djokovic clinched his 20th grand slam title.

Djokovic beat Matteo Berrettini 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4 6-3 at Wimbledon on Sunday to seal his third major trophy of the season.

It is the world number one's sixth title at the All England Club, as he defended the crown he won in an epic final against Federer in 2019.

Djokovic is now level in the record books with Nadal and Federer, with all three of the greats on 20 grand slams each.

The Serbian will look to make that 21 at Flushing Meadows later this year, as he aims to become just the second player in the Open Era to complete a clean sweep of the men's slams in a single year, after Rod Laver in 1969.

In the post-match presentation, Djokovic hailed Nadal and Federer as inspirations, and the latter echoed that sentiment.

"Congrats Novak on your 20th major," Federer, now ranked eighth in the world, tweeted.

"I'm proud to have the opportunity to play in a special era of tennis champions. Wonderful performance, well done!"

Novak Djokovic lauded Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer as inspirations after he claimed his 20th grand slam title at Wimbledon.

Djokovic overcame Matteo Berrettini 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4 6-3 on Sunday to win for the sixth time at the All England Club, matching Nadal and Federer's haul of slam titles in the process.

The world number one dropped just two sets throughout the tournament and will now head to the US Open looking to complete a calendar Grand Slam.

Asked what it meant to draw level with his two great rivals, Djokovic said: "It means none of us three will stop, that's what it means.

"I have to pay a great tribute to Rafa and Roger, they are legends of our sport, they are the two most important players I ever faced in my career. They are the reason that I'm where I am today, they've helped me realise what I need to do to get stronger mentally, physically, tactically.

"When I broke into the top 10 for the first time I lost for two, three years all of the big matches I played against these guys. Something shifted in 2010, the beginning of 2011 and the last 10 years has been an incredible journey that is not stopping here."

Djokovic, 34, will go to New York looking to overtake his rivals and create history as he looks to become only the second man to win the four majors in the same year.

"I could definitely envisage that happening. I'm hoping, I'm going to definitely give it a shot," he said.

"I'm in great form. Playing my best tennis at grand slams is my highest priority at this stage of my career. Let's keep it going."

Djokovic beat Federer in an all-time classic Wimbledon showdown in 2019, though did not quite find his best form against slam final debutant Berrettini.

"It was more than a battle, I would like to extend congratulations to Matteo," he said.

"I know it's not the best feeling losing in a final. I'm sure there's a great career ahead, I truly believe that. He's got an incredible game, very powerful - true Italian hammer! 

"Winning Wimbledon was always the biggest dream of mine as a kid, I've told this story many times but I have to repeat it to remind myself how special this is and not take it for granted. On the contrary, to enjoy and be aware that this is a huge honour and privilege.

"A seven-year-old boy in Serbia, constructing a Wimbledon trophy from materials I could find and today finding with a sixth Wimbledon [title] it's incredible, amazing."

Berrettini took a front-foot approach and struck an impressive 57 winners, but ultimately his unforced error count of 48-27 to Djokovic's tally – proved costly. Indeed, the Italian lost the match when he sent a weak backhand into the net.

"Unbelievable feelings, maybe too many to handle," Berrettini said.

"For sure he was better than me, he is a great champion. Well done Novak, once again, he is writing the history of this sport so he deserves all the credit.

"I'm really happy for my final, hopefully it's not going to be my last one here, my last one in a grand slam."

Novak Djokovic drew level with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slam titles after battling back to beat Matteo Berrettini and defend his Wimbledon crown.

Sunday's final was the first since 2019, when Djokovic had to be at his best to edge Federer in one of the All England Club's great matches.

The top seed scarcely came close to that same standard against Berrettini, nor did he need to despite falling behind in a first-set tiebreak, allowing his opponent – a major final debutant – to defeat himself at times.

A 6-7 (4-7) 6-4 6-4 6-3 success earned Djokovic parity with Federer and Nadal, and he may well be out on his own as he shows few signs of slowing while his ageing rivals each manage their schedules.

Even in command of the one set he dropped, Djokovic survived a sloppy start to break at the second attempt as his opponent skewed a forehand into the sidelines and piled on the pressure again in a long eighth game.

But he faltered when serving for the set, with Berrettini's chipped forehand pass restoring parity, which was then protected with a roar to reach a tiebreak.

The pair traded mini-breaks before Berrettini seized the initiative, stepping forward for a superb forehand winner and serving out the set with a blistering ace.

Djokovic promptly claimed control of the second, though, alert at close range to break a first time and two up when Berrettini bowed to the third chance in the third game, firing into the net.

Berrettini did not give up the chase, following an outrageous tweener lob for 5-2 with a break back after Djokovic's slip and then a further frantic hold.

However, the world number one this time successfully served out the set to love and once more made swift progress in the third, holding his nerve in a backhand rally until Berrettini clipped the net.

Djokovic saved a pair of break points at 3-2 and kept Berrettini at arm's length thereafter to see out the set.

Berrettini took the fight to the favourite in the fourth but merely succeeded in provoking his best play of the match, a staggering point in which the breathless Djokovic held firm setting the stage for a break in the next game – decided by a double fault.

With the end in sight, rather than face the challenge of serving for game, set, match and championship, Djokovic went on the offensive again and Berrettini could not cling on, slicing into the net at the last.

Data Slam: Berrettini brave but beaten

Berrettini's aggressive approach meant this match was always likely to be decided on his racket. His 16 aces improved a tournament-high tally to 117 and fittingly included the decisive point in the first set. There were also 57 Berrettini winners, including three from approach shots in that opener. But the 48 unforced errors to the risk-averse Djokovic's 21 took the contest away from the Italian.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS
Djokovic – 31/21
Berrettini – 57/48

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS
Djokovic – 5/4
Berrettini – 16/3

BREAK POINTS WON
Djokovic – 6/15
Berrettini – 2/7

Novak Djokovic is wary of the threat "red hot" Wimbledon final rival Matteo Berrettini poses to his Golden Slam ambitions.

Chasing a sixth title at the All England Club, and bidding to become the fourth man in the Open Era to record a hat-trick of successive Wimbledon triumphs, Djokovic could hardly be set to face a tougher opponent.

Berrettini won the Queen's Club title on grass in June and has made good on many experts' prediction that he would be the player to come through the bottom half of the SW19 draw.

Should the 25-year-old Italian carry off the title, he would become his country's first singles champion at Wimbledon.

And although Djokovic starts as a heavy favourite, looking to join Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on 20 grand slams, it is not so preposterous to think there could be an upset.

Berrettini leads the way in aces with 101 for the tournament, which puts him 38 ahead of Djokovic in third place on the list.

He has also been the second fastest server, sending down a delivery of 139mph. Djokovic sits top in terms of points won on first serve, his 85 per cent success record putting him a shade ahead of Berrettini, fifth with a very healthy 82 per cent.

There have been suspicions in the past that Berrettini had a limited game in terms of its dimensions, but he has put paid to that talk in recent times, showing admirable variation, which together with the confidence that is soaring makes him a genuine threat to the world number one.

 

Djokovic has not lost at Wimbledon against a fellow top-10 player since his defeat to Andy Murray in the 2013 final, and if he is seeking positive omens ahead of Sunday's Centre Court showdown that is certainly one, as is the fact he beat world number nine Berrettini in four sets in their French Open quarter-final in early June.

The 34-year-old from Belgrade is aiming to complete the third leg of a staggering bid to win all four majors and the Olympic Games singles title. The Golden Slam is a feat only ever previously achieved by Steffi Graf in 1988.

But Djokovic senses danger when he looks at Berrettini, more so than when they met on clay in Paris.

He pointed out: "Obviously grass favours him even more, favours his game. If he serves big, as he did throughout the entire tournament, it's tough to break his serve, it's tough to go into the rhythm, to find a good positioning to return, make him play.

"But I believe in my return. I think return has served me very well throughout my career. Hopefully I'll be able to get a lot of those serves back and wait for my chances."

Djokovic added: "It's really anybody's game. He's arguably the guy who has been in the best form on grass courts this year, winning Queen's. He's red hot. It's going to be a great battle."

It would be a sixth Wimbledon title for Djokovic should he claw his way past Berrettini, who is seeking a first grand slam title.

In the Open Era, only Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer have won three or more successive Wimbledon titles among the men, while Djokovic, in this potentially historic year of his, is bidding to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win each of the first three slams in a season.

Berrettini's career record does not come near to competing with that of the player who will stand on the opposite side of the net. On Sunday the Rome-born player will target a sixth tour title, and a third on grass.

Yet coming from Queen's Club, he was being told that a major opportunity awaited him at Wimbledon.

"I knew I could do it, but I didn't think I am going to do it because this is how I am," Berrettini said.

"I took every step really careful and slowly. I guess it was the right thing to do. Obviously the job is not done yet. I want to get the trophy now that I'm here."

Matteo Berrettini is advising his compatriots to purchase new televisions for what he expects to be a special Sunday that will see him contest the Wimbledon final before Italy face England in the Euro 2020 showpiece.

Berrettini will become the first Italian to feature in a singles final at Wimbledon when he faces world number one Novak Djokovic, bidding for a record-tying 20th grand slam title, at the All England Club.

Over in North London, Italy will look to break England hearts at Wembley by lifting the European Championship trophy, three years on from failing to qualify for the World Cup.

The twin tales of sporting unlikelihoods will have the attention of a nation that could well be celebrating a dual triumph by the time Bjorn Kuipers blows the final whistle to end the Euros.

Speaking after his four-set semi-final win over Hubert Hurkacz, Berrettini said: "I will tell them to buy a nice TV if they don't have one already because I think it's going to be a special Sunday for all of us.

"It's something crazy to believe for us, obviously let's say tennis, because it's never happened [at Wimbledon]. So it's something that nobody expected, me in the first place.

"Then for football, because I mean, we didn't qualify for the World Cup, so after that the job that they did, how hard they worked, the effort that they put, I think they really deserve this final.

"For Italian people in general, it's going to be tough Sunday, no? But I think we deserve it.

"It's a great day, great sport day. I'm really happy that together with football now [tennis] is one of the biggest sports in Italy."

Denis Shapovalov felt he had the game to win Wimbledon this week as he explained why his emotions spilled over after suffering a disappointing semi-final loss to Novak Djokovic.

The Canadian had tears in his eyes as he walked off Centre Court on Friday, beaten in straight sets as his opponent booked a place in the final against Matteo Berrettini.

Shapovalov was rightly proud to have reached the last four of a grand slam for the first time in his young career and feels he will benefit from the experience.

But he was left to rue failing to even take a set against Djokovic, who will now seek a 20th grand slam title on Sunday.

Shapovalov was two points away from winning the first set and converted only one of 11 break-point opportunities in a match that lasted just short of three hours.

He ultimately went down to a 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 7-5 defeat in a competitive contest and was upset by the outcome.

"It hurts a lot," explained the 22-year-old, who had only won one match in his three previous Wimbledon appearances.

"What hurt so much this time was just that I felt like the game is there and it's possible to go and play for the trophy.

"It's a feeling I've never had before, so that's why it just hurt so much. 

"I felt like I was outplaying Novak in parts of the match. If you're outplaying Novak, you can beat anyone." 

 

Elaborating on his visible disappointment on court, he added: "It just hurt a lot - it's been a lot of pressure, a lot of mental fatigue. 

"Like, it all kind of spilled out on the court before I could control myself.

"It's almost good to have a little bit of a taste, because it just makes me want it that much more going into the next slams and into the future.

"Now I know exactly what I'm capable of and where my game can be at. 

"Also the things that I can improve, too, to beat Novak next time or go one step further. A lot of positives. This has made me more hungry to try to win a trophy.

"It's a level I've never played before. The confidence and everything, the way I carried myself these two weeks, it's been different. I don't consider myself the same player."

The victorious Djokovic comforted Shapovalov in the locker room area after the match.

Shapovalov said: "He just told me he knows how difficult it is for me right now.

"He told me that everything will come. For me, it's big coming from someone like him. He doesn't have to do this. It just shows the type of person he is. 

"It's just really nice for someone like me to hear from him. I have tremendous respect for him. He's definitely for sure one of the greatest players of all time. 

"It's awesome to hear those words from him."

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