What Would an Olympic Gold Medal Mean for Novak Djokovic?

Joe Kennard@@JoeKennardFeatured ColumnistAugust 4, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 02:  Novak Djokovic of Serbia plays a forehand during a practice session ahead of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Olympic Tennis Centre on August 2, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

There are no rankings points or prize money on the line for tennis stars competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics.

So what does someone as accomplished as world No. 1 Novak Djokovic have to play for in the absence of those incentives? Legacy and patriotism.

In Rio de Janeiro, Djokovic will vie for something more than just momentary glory. There’s an opportunity for him to not only further cement his case for "greatest of all time" honors but also bring a rare gold medal to Serbia.

Motivation? That won't be an issue for Djokovic as he seeks to check off those special goals.

"There’s a different dimension to the Olympics: a dimension of pride and honor and passion," Djokovic told the Telegraph's Simon Briggs. "I look forward to being part of that energy, absorbing that energy and giving my energy to that."

From an individual standpoint, these Rio Games could offer Djokovic a historical boost. Only Andre Agassi and Rafael Nadal have completed a career Golden Slam—winning all four majors and the Olympics. He has a chance to join that elusive club in the coming days, something not even Roger Federer can say he’s done in singles action.

With each major victory, Djokovic closes in on Federer’s hallowed record. Whether he surpasses it or not is a storyline that will intensify the next few years. In the meantime, Djokovic can add an extra feather to his cap by claiming a gold medal. It would bolster his own argument to be considered the greatest ever.

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BEIJING - AUGUST 17:  Rafael Nadal (C) of Spain celebrates winning the gold medal with silver medalist Fernando Gonzalez (L) of Chile and bronze medalist Novak Djokovic of Serbia after the men's singles gold medal tennis match held at the Olympic Green Te
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

In two previous Olympic appearances, Djokovic’s best result is bronze at Beijing in 2008. As Serbia’s flag-bearer in 2012, he failed to reach the podium in London after falling to Juan Martin del Potro in the bronze-medal match.

"Underachieved" may not be the right word, but Djokovic has yet to truly showcase his prowess at the Olympics. Now is his chance to rectify that and illustrate his dominance on a global scale.

Fresh off a victory at the Rogers Cup—his 30th Masters Series title—Djokovic will be match-ready in Rio. And he'll face a field that's ripe for the picking.

While Swiss stalwarts Federer and Stan Wawrinka withdrew to nurse injuries, other big names who'll join them on the sidelines include Dominic Thiem, John Isner and Nick Kyrgios.

Concerns over the Zika virus forced Milos Raonic and Tomas Berdych to opt out of the Olympics. After careful consideration for his health, Djokovic announced that he would play on despite trepidation caused by the outbreak.

Djokovic on Rio: "I never thought about skipping this event. It's the most important after Grand Slams" pic.twitter.com/TzzXRVZ6uu

— We Are Tennis (@WeAreTennis) August 1, 2016

His main challengers figure to be Rafael Nadal, who only recently started hitting again after struggling with a left wrist injury, and Andy Murray, who hasn't played a match since winning Wimbledon last month.

Coming straight from a successful trip to Toronto, Djokovic is more battle-tested and ready to rumble than either of them. It doesn't hurt that Rio will feature hard courts, where he boasts the best win percentage of all time among eligible players.

But these Olympics take on added significance for Djokovic beyond personal ambitions: He's representing millions of people back home. His hopes and dreams are their hopes and dreams. 

As an independent nation, Serbia has one gold medal at the Summer Olympics, won by women’s taekwondo athlete Milica Mandic in 2012.   

Djokovic understands how special a second would be. 

"It would be ranked as one of the highest if not the highest achievement that I would have in my career," Djokovic told Press Association Sport (h/t Eurosport). "The Olympic Games is much larger than tennis, much larger than you."

A gold medal is something he could share with his entire country. Doing so would further elevate his status as a national hero and represent one of Serbia's greatest sporting feats.

All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com unless otherwise noted. 

Joe Kennard is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. 


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