Djokovic on a Tear

23:27 Mon 16 May 2011
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Novak Djokovic, currently ranked #2 in the world, long considered a distant third behind the Federer/Nadal duo, is playing astonishingly good tennis. How good?

In this era of phenomenal dominance by Federer and Nadal, Djokovic has done something neither of them ever has: started the year with 37 straight wins. 37 straight match wins, and seven tournament wins: the Australian Open, the Dubai Tennis Championships, the Indian Wells Masters, the Miami Masters, the Serbia Open, the Madrid Masters, and the Rome Masters.

He’s the first player to win the hardcourt trio of Australia, Indian Wells, and Miami since Federer did it in 2006.

He has beaten world #1 Rafael Nadal four straight times—in four finals. More shockingly yet, he beat Nadal in two consecutive clay court finals. Given that Nadal is most likely the greatest clay court player of all time, that is no small achievement. While Federer has stopped Nadal’s streaks on clay on a couple of occasions, he never beat him twice in a row in the clay court season—or even, as far as I know, twice at all in the same clay court season. What’s more, in the two clay court finals against Nadal, Djokovic didn’t lose a set.

As well as Nadal, Djokovic has also beaten Federer three times this year, and world #4 Murray twice.

Djokovic’s streak to start the year is currently at 37, but his winning streak is at 39. The Open era men’s record for wins to open the year is 42, set by John McEnroe in 1984. The Open era men’s record for consecutive wins is 46, set by Guillermo Vilas in 1977.

The French Open starts next week, and Djokovic is clearly favored. It’s still going to be incredibly difficult to beat Nadal in Paris, but Djokovic’s current form is fantastic. If he were to win at Roland Garros, Djokovic would eclipse McEnroe’s record and tie Vilas’.

That neither Federer nor Nadal in their periods of dominance ever put together streaks to threaten those records should illustrate how incredible Djokovic’s current run is.

I’ve never really been a Djokovic fan, nor a believer; I always thought that he was a talented and solid, but not particularly brilliant, player, and that he lacked the endurance, killer instinct, and will to beat the best in the world over any extended period. It would appear that I was completely wrong about this. I’ve seen a number of his matches this year, including most of the two clay court finals; in those, he was bullying Rafael Nadal, maintaining excellent defense, and moving from defense to offense with stunning speed. He’s timing the ball extremely well, and while his forehand has always been dangerous, it’s now in nearly the same class as Federer’s—but (at this stage) more reliable; his two-handed backhand is just as good if not better, and Nadal was repeatedly stung when he either attempted to pressure the Djokovic backhand or when he tried to play safely to it on defense.

Djokovic played what was apparently a gruelling and amazingly intense three-setter against Murray the night before he faced Nadal in the Rome final, but it didn’t appear to really matter. Yes, he appeared tired at times, and at times fatigue seemed to let Nadal back into some games—but overall it looked like Djokovic’s tennis was overall so much better than Nadal’s that the fatigue simply didn’t matter. Again, this was on clay.

I think this is the first time since 2005 that Nadal isn’t the runaway favorite for Roland Garros. He’s still extremely dangerous there, and absolutely shouldn’t be discounted even if he faces Djokovic in the final, but it’s still a radically different situation going into the French this year.

Djokovic’s fitness has been superb, at least the equal of his rivals—and they’re all supremely fit athletes each dedicated to their own arduous training regimes. What was once a weakness for him has become a strength, and it certainly seems as if the rest of his form is following in his athletic breakthrough.

I suspect some of you will be interested to learn that this athletic improvement follows Djokovic discovering that he has a gluten allergy and cutting gluten from his diet.

One Response to “Djokovic on a Tear”

  1. Miranda Says:

    Djokovic will be no1 5 years.
    Go Jocker :)

    Miranda from Australia

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