Australian tennis players Ash Barty and John Peers were awarded the bronze medal in the mixed doubles at Tokyo 2020, claiming only the nation’s sixth tennis medal in Olympics history, after Serbian world No 1 Novak Djokovic pulled out due to injury.
Barty and Peers were due to face Djokovic and Nina Stojanovic on Saturday night. But Djokovic withdrew from the competition following a three-set loss to Pablo Carreño Busta in the men’s singles bronze, citing a left shoulder complaint.
“For John and I it’s a dream come true,” said Barty. “We came here to play, we came here to win a medal for our nation. Now to be able to take a bronze medal back home, and add to the Australian tally, is incredible.
“For both of us, I feel we really earned this,” the Wimbledon champion added. “We put ourselves in a position - we played great tennis all week - and it’s really nice to be able to bring a medal home for our nation.”
A walkover was not the way either Australian would have envisaged winning the bronze-medal match, but Djokovic said he had no option but to withdraw.
“The exhaustion, both mental and physical got to me,” Djokovic said following his loss in the singles. “It’s unfortunate that in the most important matches I didn’t deliver, but I gave it all.”
Until Saturday, Australia had experienced a muted tennis tournament in Tokyo - with not one of the nation’s four men or three women making it past the round of 32 in the singles competition. Both women’s pairs were knocked out in the quarter-finals, while the two men’s pairs were knocked out in the opening round.
But Barty and Peers beat opposition from Argentina and Greece on their run to the semi-finals, before losing in a tie-break to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Andrey Rublev (Russian Olympic Committee).
Australia had never won a medal in the mixed doubles at the Olympics (which was only introduced to the schedule at London 2012). The last Australian to win a tennis medal was Alicia Molik, who finished third in the women’s singles at Athens 2004.
Barty - a former cricket player - becomes only the second Australian first-class cricketer to win an Olympic medal, following Ric Charlesworth who won a hockey silver medal in 1976.
Peers is a doubles specialist - he won the men’s doubles at the 2017 Australian Open, and has previously made the doubles final at Wimbledon and the US Open.
“The Olympics are so special for all of us here,” said Peers. “It means so much to all the tennis players to represent your country - for us it’s the green and gold of Australia. I know every chance we both get, we do it with pride, we do it with honour.”
The Tokyo 2020 tennis concludes on Sunday. Germany’s Alexander Zverev will face Russian Karen Khachanov for gold in the men’s singles, while an all-Russian affair will see the Russian Olympic Committee walk away with gold whatever the outcome in the mixed doubles’ final.