The Reuters global sports blog
Djokovic becomes a Serb-Inator to really fear
Novak Djokovic’s 26-match hot streak dating back to the end of last year when he helped Serbia win the Davis Cup shows no sign of cooling and even Europe’s slow red dirt will hold no fears for the 23-year-old Serb this year.
Djokovic is certainly no rookie on clay, as his 2008 Rome title underlined, but whereas Rafael Nadal usually chomps his way past rival after rival, Djokovic finds the surface takes a little of the sting out of his game.
At least that has been the case in previous years but this time Djokovic will arrive in Monte Carlo as the best player in the world on current form and finally looking like a player who can be a multiple grand slam champion.
His second major at this year’s Australian Open where he dismantled Roger Federer and Andy Murray appeared to unlock Djokovic’s full potential and he has been unstoppable since.
The question is can he maintain the momentum as the surfaces slow down or will Nadal re-assert his authority, as the Spaniard did last year when he bulldozed through the claycourt swing to win all 22 matches he played.
It is an enticing prospect if the third set of the Miami final is anything to go by. Djokovic and Nadal unleashed a ferocious onslaught in a set that bordered on tennis perfection.
Whereas in the past Djokovic has occasionally allowed himself to be bullied by the Spaniard, in Indian Wells and again in Miami the Serb was the aggressor, seizing every opportunity to send Nadal scampering to the far-reaches of the court.
His volleying has clearly become more solid too and the serve a potent weapon. The ground strokes have always been among the best in the business but Djokovic, perhaps taking a leaf out of the Roger Federer handbook, now conjures more angles, which in turn opens up the court for his powerful winners.
Djokovic’s mind is one of the sharpest on Tour and it is to his great credit that, without feeling the need to change his cosy family-based entourage and obscure coach Marijan Vajda, has taken his game to a breathtaking new level.
What’s more, there still seems to be more to come.
“I always believed. It’s just that it’s a process of learning. You know, you can’t always expect to play your best. You can’t always expect to win,” he said after completing the Indian Wells-Miami double against Nadal.
“I accept every day of my life spending on the court as something new to learn and trying to take the best out of it and move on as a better player, better person. It’s normal. I’m still only 23, 24, so it’s still early stages of my career.”
The stats are hugely impressive this year.
Not only has Djokovic already beaten Federer three times this year for the loss of just one set, beaten Nadal twice and Murray once but it is the clinical ease with which he has carved through draws against dangerous opponents.
In Miami he dropped just three games in his opening two rounds while in Indian Wells he won a set 6-0 in three consecutive matches. It is the ruthless mark of a man completely on top of his game. The wobbles have become non-existent.
Even when he lost the first set against Nadal on Sunday there was no panic — even if he did wreck a racket.
There was a steely-eyed focus about Djokovic that, even against the ferocious will of Nadal, made him look the likely winner the longer the match went on.
Some tough weeks of claycourt grind lie ahead for the Serb-Inator but few would bet against the 3,000-point ranking gap between himself and Nadal shrinking before they pitch up at Wimbledon.