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Friday, October 7, 2011
Not easy being Djokovic, Nadal

You want to know how tough it is to be Rafael Nadal? Or Roger Federer? Or Novak Djokovic?

Forget the spinmeister agents, long-suffering spouses, girlfriends or make-up artists at those high-priced underwear or shaving-razor commercial shoots. Just go and ask Janko Tipsarevic.

The Serb, presently ranked No. 13, won the title at Kuala Lumpur last Sunday with a well-earned triumph over former Australian Open finalist Marcos Baghdatis. Given that Tipsarevic had been to only four ATP Tour finals in a decade as a pro -- and lost every one of them -- the world must have looked like a giant red balloon in the aftermath of his breakthrough.

Then, along came the pin, in the form of Dmitry Tursunov. Barely 48 hours after his landmark win, Tipsarevic found himself in Tokyo, on the losing end of a hard and bitterly fought three-setter 7-6 (6), 6-7 (3), 7-5. I wondered after that match if Tipsarevic remembered some words he said when he sat for a video interview with his ATP media managers a few years ago:

"The great thing about tennis is that if you lose on Wednesday another guy is waiting across of the net for you on Monday. The bad thing about tennis is that if you win a tournament, there is not so much time to enjoy. Maybe not next Monday, but the next one there is another guy waiting, and if you lose, they will call you a loser. That's why the important thing is to enjoy this hotel-to-hotel life as long as it lasts."

Puffery or prophecy? I think the answer is obvious.

Tipsarevic was actually striving to do something that is almost always beyond the ken of all but the very best-of-the-best players. He hoped to retain the momentum, desire and determination that won him a title for at least one more precious week.

This is something that Nadal has done with such ease over the past few years on the clay in Europe that it barely gets mentioned anymore. It's something Federer has done on some of the most demanding stages of the game (he won Indian Wells and Miami, both Masters 1000 events, back-to-back -- twice), and it's an accomplishment that Djokovic leaned on as he compressed what would be a great career for 95 percent of the ATP pros into a single, remarkable stretch of six months early this year.

But for most pros, when dreams come true, they're not supposed to pop up and come true again just days later. That's the problem all but the greatest of players face. Just out of curiosity, I took a look to see who, if anyone, among the good-if-not-great players had managed to win tournaments in consecutive weeks in the last five years.

Juan Carlos Ferrero did it, in 2010, when he won Brazil (Costa do Sauipe) and Buenos Aires in back-to-back weeks. Of course, Ferrero is also a former Grand Slam champ and world No. 1.

Nobody below the top-three level won two consecutive tournaments in 2009. In 2008, Juan Martin del Potro won at Stuttgart and Kitzbuhel in successive weeks, and he repeated the feat at Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., just weeks later. Apparently, 2008 was a good year for the double, because Andy Murray did it as well, at the Madrid Masters and St. Petersburg.

I came up with nothing for 2007 or 2006. In 2005, Gaston Gaudio won consecutive tournaments at Vina del Mar and Buenos Aires.

The interesting thing about the record is that the only player in this distinguished company who did not win at least one Grand Slam is Murray -- although he still has plenty of time to get it done. And every one of these guys, while no Federer or Nadal, was at one time a high-value name.

It's a mark of how difficult the game is, even for a guy as obviously talented and determined as Tipsarevic. But it's also a mark of the exceptional competitive skills of the players who win back-to-back tournaments with any regularity.

Tipsarevic, who made valiant effort, now has a better idea of what it takes to be a Djokovic or Nadal in this world.