The streak that keeps on giving
May, 15, 2011
By Matt Wilansky, ESPN.com | ESPN.com
Trying to coin new and unique superlatives that do justice to Novak Djokovic's streak, which is now up to 39 and counting after his title at the Rome Masters, gets harder by the day. What else we can say about a player who not only resurrected his career but is putting together one of the great feats in recent tennis memory? Not much. So we concede -- give up. The rhetoric has run its course.
The infallible Djokovic is worthy of so much more, but based on the universal coverage, every accolade has been exhausted as we witness his transformation from a great player to an absolute elite one. So much has changed since his last loss at the O2 Arena last November.
Here are five things we've learned from Djokovic's remarkable streak:
He's one confident dude
Maligned for a good part of three years after winning his maiden major in Australia, Djokovic tinkered with his game until he got it right: the service motion went through multiple iterations, the coaching carousel was enough to make your head spin and his fitness was continually questioned. But Djokovic figured it out. He reached the Wimbledon semifinal last season, had a nice run in Toronto and then played the match that likely turned his career around, at the U.S. Open against Roger Federer. Down two sets to one, Djokovic fought his way back to win. He then played an inspiring final in a losing effort against Rafael Nadal. But the most galvanizing moment came in the Davis Cup final, and that's where the story of the streak began.
He exudes happiness
It was that crowning moment, the one in which Djokovic crushed his two opponents on the court before shaving his head in celebration. As it turned out, his hair would be the only thing he would lose for a long time. Serbia's Davis Cup championship kick-started the astonishing streak. The historic and (thanks to Viktor Troicki) heroic exploits were not only a turning point for the ebullient Djokovic, but also for Serbia, as the Davis Cup title ranks among the country's top performances in any global competition. Djokovic parlayed that success into his second Australian Open championship just two months later.
He never panics
In Melbourne, Djokovic destroyed Andy Murray in a mundane, three-set final. But that was then. In the Rome semifinals this past Saturday, the two met again, and this time Mr. Murray discovered his missing mojo. Broken three times in the third set, Djokovic never lost his composure, never rushed. He subsequently broke Murray back each time, sending the match into a tiebreaker, which Djokovic ultimately won. This shouldn't come as a surprise. Earlier this spring, at Indian Wells and Miami, Djokovic dropped the first set to Nadal in each final. No sweat. He won both matches in three sets. And in Rome, after that grueling match versus Murray, Djokovic played unfettered tennis in a convincing victory.
He's all about the W's
It's all about the bottom line -- the wins. Thirty-nine consecutive times, actually, and 37 to start this season. Only John McEnroe, in 1984, strung together a longer winning streak (42) in the Open era. That's seven titles for Djokovic in 2011 -- five more than he bagged in all of 2010. And now, Djokovic heads into Roland Garros as one of the two heavy favorites and with a chance to usurp Nadal as the top-ranked player on tour.
He will outlast you
Give up the gluten and … voila. Djokovic suddenly is no longer the same soft player with a dubious history of retirements. Instead, he's made himself into arguably the most durable player on tour. His indefatigable defense and punishing groundstrokes combine to make him an all-around lethal athlete. His newfound fitness played a significant role in showing us what truly separates the extraordinary from the merely great.