Monday, May 16, 2011

Cosmic Thing

Words can no longer describe him. 30-stroke rallies no longer fatigue him. Meet tennis's
new superhuman force.

39 wins and counting, and the legend of Novak Djokovic in 2011 is still very much alive. As the tennis season makes the final turn and heads for the fabled red clay of Roland Garros, What we're all wondering now is: how far can this remarkable stretch continue?

Die-hard Djokovic fans, of course, are wondering if they will soon wake up from this prolonged state of dreaming.

Djokovic himself, meanwhile, is on the cusp of taking his legend into another stratosphere. He's seven matches from blasting off into eternity, and if Djokovic can somehow summon his reality-bending form for two weeks in Paris, he'll forever be known as the hottest man to ever play the game.

Since 2011 began, Djokovic has defeated world No. 1 Rafael Nadal four consecutive times (2 on clay) and the then world No. 2 Roger Federer three times consecutively. All told, he's collected a stunning THIRTEEN STRAIGHT wins against top 10 opponents, and he's also collected eighteen straight against top 20 opponents.

The guy is beyond freakish right now. He's a bona fide spirit walker, performing Jedi mind tricks with his racquet to ensure the perfect placement of his shots in the deepest corners of the court.
Lately, Djokovic's on court movement has been reminiscent of those characters in "The Matrix" who avoid bullets by bending their bodies in all kinds of crazy ways.

Djokovic is so hot it's a wonder he doesn't melt into the court as he's playing. He's the mythical version of what the human tennis player aspires to be: unflinching, gunslinging, indefatigable. He's beastly and regal all at once, with the grace of a classical music conductor and the guttural blaze of rock-n-roll drummer.

With 5 more wins Djokovic will equal John McEnroe's record of 42 consecutive wins to start a season, but in reality he's far outclassed McEnroe's streak already. Johnny Mac posted some huge wins against the likes of Lendl (4) and Connors (2) in 1984, but he didn't win a Slam or beat a player as formidable as Nadal on clay that year. Mac also made the mistake of losing that 43rd match in particularly tragic fashion, and that served to take some of the lustre off his streak.

How Djokovic's streak will be perceived in the annals of history will certainly have a lot to do with how he performs in Paris. McEnroe ran into his wall with 42 consecutive wins and a two set lead on Ivan Lendl in the 1984 Roland Garros final under his belt, and when he did his streak became more known for the harshness of that very disappointing loss than for the heaping pile of wins that McEnroe amassed leading up to it.

Djokovic now stands at the same precipice. If Djokovic loses to Nadal in the French Open final, or even worse, loses unexpectedly before the final, how will this streak be remembered?

I'm not so sure -- only time will tell. But I do wonder: is the streak really about a number or is the number simply an inorganic representation of the organic beauty of Djokovic's game at the moment? The near perfect placement of his shots, the sublime footwork, the eerily sound return game and the insatiable desire to win -- can any words or numbers explain them, or is it better to just sit back and observe?

As far as catching lightning in a bottle goes, I'm not sure that there's ever been anybody to play the game with more authority than Djokovic is playing it with right now. Vilas won 46 consecutive matches on clay in 1977, but he didn't steal the fire from two of the all-time greats of the game the way that Djokovic has. Lendl went on a 44-match tear after the 1981 U.S. Open, but he didn't play a single Slam during the streak.

There are still 5 streaks of 41 or more wins (Borg, Federer, McEnroe, Lendl, Vilas) that are serving to motivate Djokovic to even greater heights.

For Djokovic, each win is an affirmation of how far he's come, of how deep he's now willing to dig. Who knows when it will end? Who knows if anybody's ever been better?

All we know is it's still alive.

And that we're dying to see him play again in Paris, for better or for worse.


  1. hyperbole much? surely you might want say ooh 14 more grand slams to be in the running for greatest ever?... this is one part of one season... get back to me when he has done this across another 5 seasons. maybe winning 3 GS's in a season a few times putting together a win streak of 41 matches that includes 2 Grand Slams...

  2. Novak doesn't need to win 14 more Slams for this streak to be any more incredible. In my opinion he just needs to win 1 more Slam, 7 more matches, and his streak will by far be the best of the Open Era.

    I agree with you about the larger picture, but I am not talking about his career -- I'm talking about his streak. He's playing the game as well as it's ever been played at the moment. I really feel that way, and I think he deserves a lot of credit, given all that he's been through, and considering that he started the year as a No. 3 with a reputation for retirements and inconsistency.

  3. Great writing, thanks for that.


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