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Novak Djokovic looks to add chapter to historic season

Top-ranked tennis player in the world takes a 57-2 record into the U.S. Open, where he is seeking his 10th title this year and third major.

August 27, 2011|By Diane Pucin
  • Novak Djokovic hits a return to Tomas Berdych during their semifinal at the Southern and Western Open in Cincinnati.
Novak Djokovic hits a return to Tomas Berdych during their semifinal at… (John Sommers II / Reuters )

Already, Novak Djokovic is having one of the best seasons in tennis history.

He is 57-2 and has won nine titles, including two of the majors, the Australian Open and Wimbledon.

Djokovic is 5-0 this season over the No. 2 player in the world, Rafael Nadal. And if Djokovic, seeded No. 1, can win the U.S. Open, which begins Monday, he might just be able to claim he has had the best season in history — even without sweeping all four major tournaments.

Mary Carillo, who will be an analyst for CBS this year, pointed not only to Djokovic's Australian Open and Wimbledon titles, but also to the way he has played in the second level of ATP Tournament events — called the Masters 1000 series — that have fields as strong as the majors.

"He won two back to back, at Indian Wells and Miami, then in Madrid and Rome back to back. Now he's gunning for a third major of the year? I don't know anybody who's had that many quality matches, quality wins," Carillo said.

"We marveled last year when Nadal won three majors and Roger Federer has had some luminous seasons as well, but considering what he's done and what the competition is like, I'd put Novak's season against anyone's if he wins the U.S. Open. If he runs the table here, it probably would be the greatest year ever."

Djokovic's second loss of the season came last week in the finals of another Masters 1000 event, in Cincinnati when, after losing the first set to Andy Murray, Djokovic ended up retiring because of a sore shoulder.

After losing to Murray, Djokovic said his shoulder should be fine by the Open, although he declined to conduct a scheduled news conference Saturday in New York.

Cliff Drysdale, a former player who is an ESPN analyst, called Djokovic's year "historic."

"You win five of those Masters events, you've got two Grand Slams under your belt, it's important to put that in perspective because he's played against the top players in those events.

"He's had to beat Nadal five times and he's beaten Roger Federer four times. Put in perspective, that makes his achievement even more remarkable."

It is no surprise to Nadal what the 24-year-old Serbian has done this season.

"For me it is a little bit strange talk about Djokovic, about his big new improvement," Nadal said. "Djokovic was here before, no? He's played fantastic before. He had fantastic potential to be where he is today.

"He's doing great. He's playing without injuries. He's playing very solid both the mental and the tennis. What he's doing is something very difficult to repeat."

Nadal is the defending U.S. Open champion and he has not had an injury-free season. He played his last three matches at Wimbledon while complaining of a sore foot and said he burned his hand a couple of weeks ago while picking up a hot plate at a Japanese restaurant.

There are other challengers as well. Third-seeded Federer is trying to keep a streak going of winning at least one major in every season since 2002. Federer gave Djokovic his first loss this season, in the semifinals of the French Open, and fourth-seeded Murray got the other win.

American Mardy Fish, 29, is having the best season of his career and arrives at the Open seeded eighth but having never advanced further than the quarterfinals at the Open.

But Fish seemed more comfortable talking about Djokovic than himself.

"I think it's a bit of an historic run. When he won Madrid and Rome, back-to-back finals, on clay, and beat Nadal both times, that was incredible," Fish said. "We are kind of thinking, you know, who's going to beat this guy?"

Federer said he has enjoyed watching Djokovic play this season. "He's done amazing to have a run like that, especially losing here in the finals last year. I think the rebound for him to come back and not to be disappointed about losing against Rafa in the final of the U.S. Open where he figured he had a good chance to win. That was a tough loss for him."

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