This season no player on the ATP World Tour has solved the riddle that is Novak Djokovic. Former pro and tennis analyst Justin Gimelstob breaks down why the Serb is on a 39-match winning streak heading into Roland Garros. But even with the secrets of Djokovic’s success revealed, that doesn’t mean the Serb will be beaten any time soon.
For four long years, Novak Djokovic had ended each season ranked No. 3 in the world behind Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. He began 2011 having gone 11 Grand Slam tournaments without adding to the first major he won at the Australian Open in 2008. Although it may be a cliché, it’s true that 2011 was always going to be a make or break year for the man from Belgrade.
The prospect of a fifth consecutive year watching the Roger-Rafa duopoly roll on has proved intolerable for a player of such prodigious talent. Djokovic has responded with one of the best starts to a season in the Open Era, winning 37 consecutive matches and seven titles, including the Australian Open and all four ATP World Tour Masters 1000 tournaments he has played, beating Federer three times and Nadal four times – all in Masters 1000 finals. He is now poised to become World No. 1.
“With Novak, there is no safe place to hit the ball”
Yes, Djokovic’s backhand is the best in the business and his returns are out of this world. But unlike his predecessors at the top of the game, his success isn’t dependent on those one or two assets, rather a combination of technical acumen, consistency, a suffocating array of athleticism, defense, and movement. As former World No. 1 Jim Courier says: “Djokovic is the total package right now. His combination of pace of shot on his ground strokes and the amount of court he is covering is impressive. He can hurt you from anywhere on the court.”
Novak is dominating the sport due to the sum of his parts. His skills collectively have created an equation to which no player in 2011 has found an answer. Top-ranked American Mardy Fish, who has never beaten Djokovic in six career meetings, was brutally candid when assessing the Serb’s game. “I have played all of the top players but Novak is the toughest match-up for me because he has no weaknesses. With Roger, as amazing as he is, you feel like you have a game plan of trying to get the ball into his backhand. With Rafa you feel like you can try to take his time away and get free points on your serve because he stands deeper in the court. With Novak, there is no safe place to hit the ball. And as a result you feel so much pressure playing him.”