The remarkable sports story of Novak Djokovic just gets better and better.
Here's the deal, for all of you who don't follow tennis. For the past decade, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have dominated the men's game, with everyone else playing the roles of "afterthoughts", or just slightly annoying people who Federer and Nadal had to beat to make it to the finals of another tournament. First Federer was unbeatable for two or three years, then Nadal finally, slowly figured out how to beat Federer, first on clay, then on every other surface. And so for the past two years, Federer and Nadal have jockeyed back and forth for the #1 ranking. And even though Novak Djokovic was in third place in the rankings behind Federer and Nadal, he was always a very distant third, not really a contender to ever consistently beat the top two players.
And then something happened this year, Djokovic is unbeaten for the year, and has now defeated Federer and Nadal three and four times, respectively. How did this happen, you might ask. Well, Federer got a little older and his invincibility began to wain, and while Nadal had spent so much time figuring out how to take down Federer, he evidently didn't pay much attention to the games of others, namely, Djokovic, coming up behind him. But Djokovic also played a part in gaining his new status as the best player in the game. He matured; he stopped throwing his shirt into the stands after matches, and he stopped imitating the other players to laughs from the crowds. And with his new mental and emotional maturity seemed to come a new maturity in his game.
One week ago, at the Madrid Open, Djokovic did the unthinkable, he beat Nadal on his unbeatable surface of clay, in Nadal's home country, no less. But it was even more unthinkable that Djokovic could beat in today's Italian Open final, which would mean that he would defeat Nadal, the best clay court player in the world, in two clay tournaments, back to back. But he did it. And not only did he do it, but today, he made Nadal look like a struggling amateur.
And, of course, as we've been saying for the past few days, at stake today was Djokovic's unbeaten win streak for 2011, which after today's win, now stands at 37 straight matches. He's only five matches away from tying John McEnroe's record of 42 straight matches to start the 1984 season.
Next up for Djokovic is The French Open, the second Grand Slam tournament of the year, which starts one week from today. All eyes will be on Novak next week in Paris, not only to see if he can break McEnroe's record, but also to see if can win his first French Open. But also going for the win in Paris will be Rafael Nadal, which would be his sixth championship at Roland Garros Stadium and would tie him with the great Bjorn Borg for winning the most French Opens. So guess which two players we want to see in the finals? Oh yeah, let's pray for tennis heaven next week.