Is defiant Djokovic on track for Grand Slam?
After watching Novak Djokovic dispose of Andy Murray in the Australian Open final this summer and gradually increase his impressive unbeaten run, it was felt that the real test would come once the clay court season began.
Djokovic has been a constant threat on hard courts for the last few years, making the US Open final in 2007 and 2010, whilst winning the Australian Open in 2008 and now 2011.
However, he hasn’t quite managed the same level of consistency on clay and grass, with Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer dominating at Roland Garros and Wimbledon for the best part of a decade.
Having made it to the final at the Madrid Masters last week, Djokovic passed his first test by beating Nadal in straight sets, ending the Spaniard’s own personal winning streak on clay at 37 matches.
Next up was the Rome Masters, where he got pushed all the way by Andy Murray in the semi finals, before finally getting the better of the Brit in a third set tie-break. With little time to rest after yesterday’s marathon and Nadal again waiting for him in the final, the Serbian has now remarkably extended his run to 37 matches courtesy of a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Following this fourth defeat to Djokovic in succession, there is little doubt that Nadal’s reign as world number one is soon to come to an end.
The most intriguing scenario for tennis fans now is whether or not Djokovic can complete a true Grand Slam by winning all four majors.
At the moment, the only obstacles he has to becoming the first man since Rod Laver to achieve the feat is injury or illness. Speaking in an interview in 2009 for The Associated Press ahead of the Wimbledon final, Laver said he believed that winning a true Grand Slam was still possible in the modern era. But he added “it all has to line up in a way that you have to be fortunate to play your best tennis at the right time.”
So far, Djokovic has done just that and with his current superiority over Nadal, it is hard to see who could stop him. While it would seem foolish to dismiss the threat of a man who has won a record 16 Grand Slams, Federer’s form has dipped alarmingly this year. Likewise, Murray appeared to be on a downward spiral after his loss in the Australian Open final.
Despite finding some form at Rome and presenting a stern challenge to Djokovic, he is too often thwarted by inconsistency and self-doubt. Djokovic emphatically beat even Robin Soderling, a man who has often given Nadal a difficult time on clay, on his way to the Rome Masters title.
Though it may still be too early in the year for such a bold prediction, the true Grand Slam feat has already been close to eventuating in the modern era. Federer won three slams in 2004, 2006 and 2007, twice being denied by Nadal on clay at the French Open. The Spaniard also managed to win three last year, but Federer was victorious on the hard court at the Australian Open.
In 2011, they are both aiming to prevent Djokovic from achieving the only major milestone that is missing from their glittering careers.
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