Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic has taken the 2011 tennis season by storm with a perfect 18-0 record. His wins include the Australian Open - his second Grand Slam singles title - and the prestigious BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, where he defeated 16-time Grand Slam winner Swiss Roger Federer and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal of Spain back-to-back en route to the title. The commanding performance by Djokovic has entrenched his status as the man to beat on tour.
Playing in an era of tennis dominated by the duo of Swiss maestro Roger Federer and the grinder from Mallorca, Spain, Rafael Nadal, Serbia's Novak Djokovic had been relegated to somewhat of a novelty. The charming and witty 23-year-old has been known to crack jokes and first entered the public eye by making comical impressions of other players. His nickname, "The Djoker", belied the fierce competitor and tennis player the world is slowly getting to know now.
In the 2007 U.S. Open final, Djokovic faced off against the seemingly unstoppable Federer and suffered a straight-sets defeat. The loss, however, further cemented the charismatic Serb's popularity with fans and provided tennis with a leading candidate to challenge the Roger-Rafa stranglehold. It would be just a few months later that Djokovic broke through and claimed his maiden Grand Slam title at the 2008 Australian Open, where he sent Federer home in the semifinals and reached the final without dropping a set.
The tennis world prepared for a Serbian takeover, with countrywomen Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic gaining steam on the women's tour. But Djokovic failed to capitalize on the momentum from his inaugural Grand Slam victory and instead became a leading contender for the "best of the rest" label.
Two years later, Djokovic counts himself as a Davis Cup winner, owner of two Australian Open trophies (2008 and 2011) and one of only three players who have defeated both Federer and Nadal at any tournament on two occasions. Djokovic did it previously in 2007 at Montreal. The Serb admits that with an improvement in fitness, the man who was once mocked by American Andy Roddick for having an array of ailments is feeling much different than the 2008 version of himself.
"It's quite a different feeling, you know, because I feel this year [I'm a] more complete player," he said. "Physically I'm very fit, very strong. And mentally it's different, because I have more experience than I had in 2008. So I am extremely happy with the way I'm playing and with the success that I'm having, but I know the season is very long."
The win in Indian Wells also signified Djokovic's return to world No. 2, supplanting Federer in the world rankings, and trailing only Nadal. The 1.88-meter-tall Serb, with a dangerous two-handed backhand and a return game that rivals the best in the business, has accounted for all three of Federer's losses this season. The Swiss is undefeated against all other players so far this year.
Despite the run, Djokovic is reluctant to crown his achievements just yet. "I don't think anybody is unbeatable," he said. "I do have the best period of my life on the tennis courts, but nobody is invincible. You're just trying to play your best in each match."
Charismatic and fun-loving off-the-court and determined and focused on-the-court, Djokovic struggled to find the balance in past years to be a dominant player.
"I wasn't maybe managing to find the right balance between things I prioritize and things I don't prioritize," he said. "Right now, I'm very clear in my mind what I need to do on-the-court, off-the-court to prepare well and to give my maximum on the court. And as well, have time to enjoy with my friends, with my team, and just enjoy off-court life. That's probably the difference, the experience I have over the years."
With a winning attitude and confident mentality, it appears that Djokovic is poised to dominate the tennis world for years to come.