To be or not to be has always being the question to ask when a player captures the imagination of fans. Wild surmises are then usually made, these in turn are tempered by more conservative views, which in turn are themselves discredited by the very same wild surmises—and the cycle goes on and on.
Often, the true significance of a player is only seen when something memorable is achieved (i.e. the breaking of a record, the near-defeat/defeat of a prominent player or the changing of a rule to an exception).
Believed by most tennis observers to be—in some capacity—true, was the belief that no one could beat a fully fit Rafael Nadal on clay. Whether this was true or not was beside the point—the main idea was that for Rafael Nadal to lose on clay, a whole lot more than the opponent just turning up it was required.
And this brings me to the subject of Novak Djokovic and his ascent to the top.
Had it been any other player—barring Djokovic or possibly Juan Martin Del Potro—who defeated Nadal in Sunday's final at the Madrid Masters, it's quite likely that nothing would have been made of it. All would've put down to a bad day or a hampering of some sort. Since it was Djokovic who defeated Nadal, this brings to the forefront a significance which I'm questioning.
Is Djokovic The Real McCoy or just a random guy on a streak that anyone can replicate?
To qualify as a streakster requires a history of being inconsistent, a sudden stretch of good form which is in stark contrast to previous form and signs of the player being able to do things that, from evidence of past performances, aren't expected from him.
Djokovic fits this profile perfectly.
After winning his first slam in 2008, he experienced a "failure to launch" of sorts. It took him 11 Grand Slam tournaments to reach another Grand Slam final. At this point, it had been almost three years since his maiden Grand Slam title. From the evidence of his play at the Australian Open in 2008, this was unexpected.
This was inconsistency personified.
Then came the sudden stretch of good form after an unremarkable first three-quarters of 2010. Having lost at the quarterfinal stage at both the Australian Open and the French Open, and having lost to Berdych at the semifinal stage at Wimbledon, he reached the final of the U.S. Open. He also won the Davis Cup for his country, won the Australian Open earlier this year and is currently on a 33 match unbeaten run, winning six titles.
Come the start of the clay court season, having missed Monte-Carlo, he dismissed a fit Rafael Nadal in his own backyard.
This resulted in the purest example of a player doing something which is unexpected, as Novak hadn't defeated Nadal in all 10 of their previous meetings on clay. In that match, Nadal was the one failing to be effective, and Djokovic was the immovable object—retrieving every ball, winning the longer rallies and being the least tired.
All this coming from a guy who some thought was less talented than Andy Murray.
The Real McCoy?
To be The Real McCoy, a few of the many criteria include: having a track record, having big tournament wins, and of course the ability to reproduce results consistently over time.
Guess what? Djokovic also fits this bill.
The track record is there for all to see. The admittance by the current world No. 1 that Djokovic is more than likely to take his top status away, the defeat of the No. 1 on his favorite surface and the nigh-on four year reign that Novak has had in the top four, are all pointers to a fine track record.
Being an eight-time Masters 1000 Series winner as well as a winner of the Davis Cup, the Year End Championships and two Grand Slam tournaments speak to his ability. He certainly has the titles, not forgetting the 12 other tournaments he's won as well.
Can he reproduce results?
Yes, he can and he can better them. Late last year at the U.S. Open, he reproduced his best performance at that tournament by reaching the final. Earlier this year, he reproduced his best performance at the Australian Open by winning the tournament. This year, he repeated his wins at Indian Wells in 2008, Miami in 2007 and he won his first clay court Masters event this year.
His current record-breaking unbeaten run is even more evidence that he can reproduce results week in and week out.
Both arguments are reasonable and valid.
He has the track record—but inherent in his track record is inconsistency.
He has the titles—Marcelo Rios also had the titles.
He can reproduce or better his results—yes he can, but it might take him another 3 years to do so.
Ultimately, answers will differ, fans will be biased, haters will hate and conservatives will be conservative and the cycle will go on and on. Why shouldn't he lose in the quarters at the Rome Masters? Why shouldn't he win the tournament?
Streakster or The Real McCoy? Right now, it's up in the air. A toss up.