Monday, May 16, 2011

Can Djokovic top McEnroe, dethrone Nadal?

After beating Rafael Nadal in four straight finals, two on U.S. hardcourts followed by two on European clay, Novak Djokovic has put himself in a position to extend his thirty-seven straight win start to 2011 past John McEnroe’s 42-0 mark from 1984 and to lay claim to the number one Spaniard’s “King of Clay” moniker if he wins this year’s French Open at Roland Garros in Paris.

American John McEnroe was having the best year of his career and was up 2 sets to love over Ivan Lendl, who’d yet to win a Grand Slam title despite being a finalist 4 times.  But in his second French Open final, Lendl finally proved that he had what it took to win the big one, winning the first of his eight Grand Slam titles by coming back to defeat McEnroe 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5, his first of three Roland Garros titles.  For McEnroe, it was arguably the worst loss of his storied career and, given that he’d end his career with 7 Grand Slam titles, his collapse in that 1984 final marks the difference between his and Lendl’s totals.

Since 2005, Spain’s Rafael Nadal has dominated all comers on the ATP tour on Europe’s favorite surface, the brick red dirt ‘clay’; it started when he won his first title on his first attempt at Roland Garros and it continued through four consecutive finals at the venue.  At one point, he won 81 consecutive matches on the surface, an open era record for men.  After losing for the first time ever at Roland Garros – to Sweden’s Robin Soderling in the fourth round in 2009 – he rebounded to win his fifth French Open title last year, exacting revenge over the Swede in straight sets in the final.

Given Nadal’s considerable resume, it would be hard to deem Serbia’s Novak Djokovic the new “King of Clay” if he were to break McEnroe’s streak – by making it to the final at Roland Garros – and then win the 2011 French Open title (over Nadal or anyone else) but, then again, the Serbian’s performance this year has been historic in its own right.  Djokovic has demonstrated that he's not intimidated by Nadal, or anyone else for that matter; according to Brad Gilbert, he's 10-0 against the top 5 this year!  Is it possible for the Serbian to win five straight finals against his Spanish rival (and become number one in the world) on June 5th?

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