Commentary

How does Djoker keep up this pace?

Originally Published: August 15, 2011
By Kamakshi Tandon | Special to ESPN.com

TORONTO -- How long will this go on? Novak Djokovic looked rusty for all of five games as he began his summer hard-court campaign at the Rogers Cup in Montreal. From there, it was one routine two-setter after another -- Nikolay Davydenko, Marin Cilic, Gael Monfils. By the semifinals, they weren't even trying anymore. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga quit after going down a set and a break in the semifinals, saying his arm was tired. Tsonga later explained more clearly in French that the injury was a muscle pull that had been bothering him for the past three days. It was really Djokovic's fine play that made it hardly worth continuing, though.

Mardy Fish made more of an impression in the final, stepping up and taking advantage of a lull in the second set and continuing to threaten during the third set. But in the end, a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 win gave Djokovic a victory in his first tournament as world No. 1 and a record five Masters wins this season. It was also a clear signal that he hasn't lost any steam after the post-Wimbledon break.

[+] EnlargeDjokovic
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesA post-Wimbledon letdown, you say? Not for Novak Djokovic, who bagged his fifth Masters Series title.

If you're counting -- and who isn't? -- Djokovic is 53-1 for the season, just short of equaling John McEnroe's 54-1 start to the year in 1984. Winning his opening match at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati would do it. Could he go on to tie or surpass the 82-3 mark that McEnroe set that year? The Serb told Canadian television he hadn't even known about the record, but now that he did, it was "something to fight for."

On paper, he could just about do it. If Djokovic plays his expected schedule of Cincinnati, the U.S. Open, probably Bangkok, Shanghai, Paris and the ATP World Tour finals -- that's potentially 31 matches plus another maximum of four Davis Cup matches. But it would take a lot (i.e., making the finals of each of the five events and not losing more than twice). It's improbable, but on the other hand, he's already reached the final in nine events and won them all, losing only once in the semifinals of the French Open to Roger Federer. Only Martina Navratilova's 1983 record of 86-1 looks safe from Djokovic's grasp, and that's if he doesn't decide to play any more tournaments.

On the court, things won't be as easy. Although Djokovic said he would play Cincinnati as planned, he looked a little tired at times during the Montreal final and could be vulnerable in the heat after some long matches. Only Patrick Rafter in 1996 and Andy Roddick in 2003 have won in Canada, in Cincinnati and at Flushing Meadows at one stretch.

But whatever happens for the rest of the season, Djokovic's streak is already far more impressive than McEnroe's at the same stage, encompassing two Slam wins and five Masters with full-strength fields. It is an unparalleled stretch.

How has he done it? "He plays incredible tennis, but he's not an alien," Tsonga said. "In fact, what he does is doing everything better than the others. He doesn't hit harder; he doesn't hit the ball earlier. But he's always there."

With defending champion Andy Murray, Rafael Nadal and Federer all falling early in their summer hard-court debuts, Djokovic, more than ever, is the talk of the circuit.

"He makes everyone feel like the court is so small," Andre Agassi said courtside after playing an exhibition match at the women's Rogers Cup in Toronto. "His ability to turn defense into offense is remarkable.

"I'm glad I get to watch him from my couch in my living room."

"It's hard to peak for every single event," said Samantha Stosur, who made the final of the women's Rogers Cup at Toronto this past week. "You're always going to have those highs and lows through a season most of the time -- unless you're Novak. It doesn't seem to bother him at all."

More winning means busier weeks. The ATP notes that Djokovic has already logged as many matches as he had by October last year. Can he keep going at this pace?

"There is always energy if there is motivation," Djokovic said. "There is plenty of motivation and desire to continue on and play well and win matches and win tournaments. Look, you know, even though I have achieved my two biggest dreams in my tennis career, I'm still 24, and I still want to play tennis as long as I do have this inspiration and motivation in myself.

"I'm aware of the fantastic year that I had and a great streak, but I'm not thinking how many matches will I lose, I'm thinking how many matches will I win. As long as it's like that, I think I'm in the right direction."

Kamakshi Tandon is a freelance tennis writer for ESPN.com.