Novak Djokovic (Getty)
Rio de Janeiro - It was a match worthy of a final, but in the end the record books will show that Novak Djokovic was upset in the first round of the 2016 Olympics by Juan Martin del Potro.
The simply manic crowd ensured that proceedings were drenched in emotion from start to finish, and in the end both players left the court in tears.
Del Potro won 7-6 (7/4), 7-6 (7/2), but the scoreline didn't matter.
The players shared a lengthy embrace at the net after match point, Djokovic broke down, Del Potro could barely believe the enormity of what he had done and the spirit of the Olympic Games was there for all to see.
An Olympic gold medal is the only thing missing from Djokovic's list of individual achievements, and he will have to wait at least four more years to put that right.
"I'm very sad and disappointed from my side to go out in a tournament this early, but on the other hand I'm glad a good friend of mine, and somebody who has struggled the last couple of years with injuries, is back and playing at this level," Djokovic said after the match.
"Yeah, no doubt this is one of the toughest losses in my life and in my career. It's not easy to handle, especially now, just after the wounds are still fresh.
"But, you know, you have to deal with it. It's not the first or the last time I am losing a tennis match. But the Olympic Games, yeah, it's completely different."
The crowd was behind the world No 1 throughout.
"I don’t know how to thank them, honestly. This kind of atmosphere I experience a few times in my life, mostly when I’m in my country. This felt like I was in my country. This felt like I was Brazilian," said Djokovic.
"I thank them with all my heart. It was amazing. They were giving me strength and I’m sad I wasn't able to take the match to a third set."
Del Potro, ecstatic with the victory, sympathised with Djokovic.
"He’s a great champion, a friend for a long time. I know how important this event was for him. He wanted the gold medal, but I also believe he knows about my effort," said Del Potro.
"I talked to him all through my rehab. I’ll always be thankful for his words. We respect each other so much. It was a spectacular match from any point of view."
Lloyd Burnard is Sport24's correspondent in Rio de Janeiro for the duration of the 2016 Olympics ...