Written by: Michael Emmett
***Michael Emmett is the Director of Tennis Operations at all Mayfair clubs. He is a certified Tennis Canada Coach 3 with a Journalism degree from the University of Texas. Michael spent several years working in sports television at TSN and Sportsnet. Michael is a former National champion who finished his last year of junior tennis ranked #1 in Canada. Michael has coached several National champions when he worked for the All-Canadian Academy at the National Tennis Centre at York University in the early 90s. Michael spent 2 years traveling the world playing the ATP tour satellite circuit as a member of the Molson National Team in 1985 and ’86.***
It’s time for the tennis world to recognize the best tennis player in the world is no longer Rafael Nadal or Roger Federer. That honor goes to Novak Djokovic.
The Serb has won 37 straight matches to start the 2011 campaign and will likely break John Mcenroe’s all time record of 42 matches (for Men) when the French Open begins in a week. A semi-final appearance is all it will take to tie this record that some thought would never be touched.
Also within grasp is the #1 ranking – Nadal is holding on by a thread and it’s just a matter of time before Djokovic adds this to his resume. With a 37- match winning streak in tow, 4 wins over Nadal in the last 8 weeks (all in Masters 1000 Finals) and an Australian Open to boot – how is this guy not ranked #1? At this point, the young Serb looks unbeatable even on Nadal’s favourite surface. Sunday’s 6-4, 6-4 demolition of Nadal – even after blowing 3 straight match points in the final game – looked routine. Djokovic has only lost 9 sets six months into the season. Can you say Mind-boggling?
But for me the most impressive thing is he has beaten Nadal – the greatest clay court player ever – in back-to-back weeks in Madrid and Rome without dropping a set. Djokovic has now become the first player to beat Nadal on clay twice in the same year, a feat that comes exactly a week before the French Open begins. A third victory in 3 weeks on Stade Roland Garros would be the icing on the cake for Djokovic – the significance would be gigantic – a first French open title, the number one ranking, and a win streak that may never be topped on the ATP tour. As a tennis fan, I can’t wait to see if history will be made.
Based on the last 2 weeks is it possible to make Nadal the favourite in Paris? Does the fact that it is Nadal’s favourite court in the world play a factor? Does the fact that it is best of five make a difference? Or is Djokovic too good for even Nadal.
Based on what I’ve seen the last 2 Sunday’s I would be hard pressed to bet on Nadal in Paris if the two were to meet up in the Final. Djokovic is hitting the ball so cleanly, so penetrating with pin-point accuracy. He is playing with supreme confidence and has no fear even in the most nerve wrecking moments. I’m not sure Nadal has the game to handle the onslaught – his heavy topspin groundstrokes are sitting up a bit and Djokovic is feasting on them like a hanging curve ball to Jose Bautista.
If Djokovic continues this trend the Grand Slam may be what we are talking about in a few weeks. Not surprisingly, Nadal has said, “the guy is on fire – he is playing too good for me at the moment.”
Groundstrokes that are travelling at 170km/hour within inches of the line on a consistent basis are the main recipe to his unbelievable success. Djokovic is hitting bullets into the corners that are crossing the net by mere inches – putting enormous pressure on his opponents. If he keeps this up for the majority of his matches he may not lose for quite some time. At times, he seems to be toying with his Spanish rival – and who could have ever imagined we’d be talking like this about the clay court maestro – Rafa Nadal?
How does Djokovic’s season compare to other men and women who have undefeated streaks at the start of the tennis season?
In 1984, John McEnroe made one memorable season as he accomplished the best single season record among men with an 82-3 (96.5%) mark. More than half of those wins came before a single but significant loss. He won eight titles in his first eight events that year. He was 42-0 before losing in the French Open final to Ivan Lendl. McEnroe was up two sets to love and a service break before he lost to Ivan Lendl in 5 dramatic sets. This was Lendl’s first Grand Slam after losing in the previous four finals he reached and McEnroes’s most crushing defeat. A loss that still haunts him today!
The third best season start belongs to Bjorn Borg, McEnroe’s rival. Borg won his first six tournaments in 1980 season, collecting 33 wins before he lost in the Nations Cup semifinals. It must be noted that these streaks of Borg and McEnroe came at a period when the Australian Open was staged at year-end in December and the first Grand Slam of the year was still the French Open in late May.
This makes Djokovic’s current run even more special as it is the longest season-opening streak to date that spans a Grand Slam. Keep in mind, Djokovic won in Melbourne without dropping a set. Guillermo Vilas holds the Open era record for longest winning streak at 46 matches, established in 1977, however, this was not at the beginning of the season – and all of Vilas’ matches were won on clay.
This win in Rome for the 24-year-old Serb was extraordinary for so many reasons. I for one, counted him out after a lengthy semi-final win over Andy Murray (6-1, 3-6, 7-6) – a match that lasted just over 3 hours and ended after midnight local time. I felt that the exhaustion Djokovic was feeling was too much for the Serb to overcome in such a short time-frame. But a 2-hour rain delay before his match with the top seed was a blessing in disguise for the 7 time champion in 2011. Being back on sea-level was also a major factor in my eyes – but the slower courts in Rome seemed to favour Djokovic.
Djokovic attributed his win in Madrid partly to the altitude and faster conditions. The conditions at the Foro Italico are more similar to those in Paris, perhaps making this victory more telling. Fast courts, slow courts, clay, grass, rain delays, altitude, 3-set marathons – none of this seems to matter – Djokovic has Nadal’s number and for that matter he has everybody’s number.
If there is a better story out there in the world of sports can somebody let me know. In my estimation this is the greatest achievement in sports in quite some time. And the story is just getting started. It should be a wild ride all-the-way to New York in September.