TOKYO (Reuters) – World number five Alexander Zverev won the biggest title of his career, crushing Russia’s Karen Khachanov 6-3 6-1 on Sunday to win gold in men’s tennis at the Tokyo Olympics.
The 24-year-old, who is yet to win a Grand Slam title, was in stunning form when he demolished Khachanov in 79 minutes to become the first German to win an Olympic gold in singles.
Zverev, who scored a rare victory over world number one Novak Djokovic in the semifinals, became just the second German to win Olympic tennis singles gold by matching Steffi Graff’s performance at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
“There are only a few people in this world who are happier than me right now,” Zverev said. “I can’t compare it because it’s so much more important than anything else in sport,” he told reporters.
“A gold medal for me at the Olympics, the value is incredible. The Olympics are the greatest sporting event in the world. There is nothing compared to it.
“I have this gold thing around my neck and it’s not one of the 50 gold chains I normally wear.”
Zverev has been flawless throughout and never allowed his opponent a glimpse as he took an early break and took a 3-1 lead in the first set.
There was no sign of nervousness when he broke Khachanov for the second time and pocketed the first set when his opponent sent an easy volley past the German’s second set point.
Zverev had struggled with a series of personal issues over the past few years as well as a messy change in leadership while building a reputation for being an extremely talented player who fails to close big games.
But on Sunday, even the loud protests from a handful of anti-Olympic protesters, entering center court through a megaphone, failed to distract him as he again smashed the hapless Russian in the second game of the second. set.
Long criticized for his perceived mental weakness, including his loss to Dominic Thiem in the US Open final last year when he surrendered a straight set lead, Zverev has proven the skeptics wrong this time around.
He remained in total control, beating the winners on the backhand past his opponent who could only watch as he settled for the money when he threw a forehand into the net on Zverev’s first match point.
The German dropped to his knees before raising his arms in triumph, knowing he had finally hit a jackpot.
Khachanov has won his four ATP titles on hard courts, but never came close to adding to that goal on Sunday.
Khachanov was competing in Tokyo as a representative of the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) because the country was stripped of its flag and anthem for doping offenses.
Germany also won Olympic gold in doubles with Boris Becker and Michael Stich at the 1992 Barcelona Games.
Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta won bronze on Saturday after beating Djokovic.
(Report by Rozanna Latiff and Karolos Grohmann, edited by Pritha Sarkar)