After winning big in Monte Carlo, Novak Djokovic became the first player ever to win the first three Master’s events of the year. It’s a feat that many a great player has tried to accomplish, yet failed. He has a 32 match winning streak in ‘elite’ events (Masters 1000, World Tour Finals & Grand Slams) dating back to the start of the Paris masters in 2014. In addition to this – at the time of writing- he now sits atop the ranking, a full 5460 points clear of Roger Federer in second place – there is more of a gap between first and second than second and eleventh. This margin of points difference is confirmed to be (per @JaredPine on Twitter) the largest gap between world numbers 1 & 2 in ATP history. Like him or loathe him, there’s no denying it, Novak Djokovic is dominating men’s tennis right now. We are in the presence of true brilliance, he’s producing showstopping tennis on all different surfaces, it’s sublime and a little bit ridiculous at the same time.
With the French Open fast approaching many bookmakers have him as favorite to lift the title, ahead of 9 time defending champion and ‘King of Clay’ Rafa Nadal – which tells you something about the level Novak is currently playing at. Now, I want to address one question that a lot of tennis pundits and journalists are posing: ‘is Djokovic unbeatable?’ and, well, in short; no he isn’t. At least not in the literal sense that nobody can beat him, because he’s already lost twice this year so we know he isn’t ‘unbeatable’! On both occasions, however, he didn’t play his absolute best tennis, whereas his opponents were playing at, or very close to, their highest level. I think that when he isn’t playing his best tennis then there are numerous players in the world who can take advantage and beat him. We saw in his Monte Carlo final against Tomas Berdych, he was no where near his highest level and nearly paid the price. I guess it speaks volumes about how good he is that he still managed to win that match playing at around 70%. Had he played like he did in the semi against Nadal, then – in my opinion- that final would’ve been over in straight sets and Berdych wouldn’t have had a say in the matter.
The real question is: when he’s playing at his absolute best, can anyone beat Djokovic? More specifically, with Roland Garros just a month away, can anyone beat Djokovic – if he’s at his best – on the clay, in Paris. (Obviously my question is very much hypothetical because it implies both players are playing lights out tennis during the whole match) Now then, there are a few players who I think can push him all the way on the French clay, Nishikori springs to mind, if he and Djokovic go toe to toe both playing at the top of their game then I think Kei could seriously trouble him. David Ferrer is another astounding clay court player who can really test Djokovic at his best. For me though, there’s only one man who can actually beat Novak in a best of five sets match in Paris, and thats Rafael Nadal. If they’re both playing their best clay court match, then Rafa edges it in five for me. Although the Monte Carlo semi final ended in a pretty routine looking 6-3 6-3 it was far from it. The quality was immense at times and when both players were playing their best stuff it was incredibly even, the match in general was just a hot shot fest, if you haven’t seen it then check out the highlights some of the points were awesome. In the end Djokovic won the match because he could sustain the high level of play for longer periods and during the bigger points. But in this hypothetical world where both players are playing at 100% for the whole match, I think Rafa has the edge over the course of five sets. He’s pretty much a machine manufactured for the sole purpose of playing at Roland Garros, his body is used to the unique strains of clay court tennis and he’s only lost once there in his whole career. Basically he’s a clay court Terminator. When Rafa is playing his best tennis, on a clay court, I honestly don’t know if anyone can beat him.
With that being said do I think Djokovic can win the French Open? I don’t see why not. Obviously he has a better chance than most at winning it, but it won’t be easy – winning Grand Slams rarely is. When you see the way he’s playing and how incredibly dominant he is right now it’s hard to bet against him, I just think Rafa has that slight mental edge given that he’s a 9 time champion. I fully expect the two to meet in Paris, whether its the Final or Semi Final that depends on Rafa’s seeding, but when they do meet I think whoever wins will ultimately be holding the trophy aloft. It will boil down to who can play their best tennis for the longest sustained period during the match.
One more point before I leave you and it’s the widely debated topic of the much coveted ‘Calendar Slam’ and whether Djokovic will achieve it this year. For those who don’t know ‘Calendar Slam’ refers to winning all four grand slams in the same year. A lot of people are backing him to do it this year and I almost cringe when I see people making these claims purely because they starting talking about it straight after the first slam. If you want to get technical then every player who wins the first Grand Slam of the year *could* win the ‘Calendar Slam’ but they very, very rarely do. I believe the last person to do so was Rod Laver in the 60’s, so that shows you how difficult a feat it is. Personally I don’t think he will do it, or more accurately, I’m not confident in saying he will do it, purely because there’s so much more tennis to be played between now and the US Open, who knows what could happen.
To be honest I’m not a fan of people predicting things, I’d rather we just stayed in the now and appreciate the splendid tennis this man is producing. Rather than debating what he can or could do, lets just marvel at what he is doing and admire this spell of absolute dominance.