Novak Djokovic Entering Rarified Air with Recent Dominance

Joe Kennard@@JoeKennardFeatured ColumnistApril 24, 2015

Novak Djokovic, of Serbia, takes part in an interview at the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament, Thursday, March 12, 2015, in Indian Wells, Calif. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Savor these moments, tennis fans, because you're witnessing history in the making.

Not many players have ever had a run like Novak Djokovic is currently enjoying. He's put a stranglehold on the No. 1 ranking over the last six months, snatching every important title in sight.

Ending 2014 with victories at the Paris Masters and World Tour Finals, the Serbian hasn't lost a beat this season. He's dominated the field at the Australian Open, Indian Wells, Miami and Monte Carlo on his way to a 30-2 record and an active 17-match win streak.

Claude Paris/Associated Press

He's seemingly invincible on the court these days.

When you think of the all-time great individual seasons, a few come to mind. In John McEnroe's legendary 1984, he went 82-3 with 13 titles. Two decades later, Roger Federer entered that stratosphere. The Swiss compiled records of 81-4 in 2005 and 92-5 in 2006, conquering 23 tournaments in that span. And then there's Rafael Nadal, who sailed to a 75-7 record in 2013 with 10 titles, including two majors.

Djokovic is on a similar trajectory.

It's not just that the Serbian is winning; it's how he's doing it. As FiveThirtyEight.com's Carl Bialik noted, Djokovic has been dealing out plenty of punishment since last fall. 

Updated phenomenal Djokovic stats: Won 47 of 50 w/ 13 bagels, 1.48 DR (ratio return pt % won to serve pt % lost), 21-2 v Top 10 w/ 8 bagels.

— Carl Bialik (@CarlBialik) April 19, 2015

Those numbers are mind-boggling. But when you watch him play, the secret to his success is easy to decipher. 

He simply has no weaknesses. His serve, once the poorest shot in his arsenal, has tightened up and become a key weapon, especially in crucial situations.

His forehand, however, may the be most-improved part of his repertoire. Not only more powerful, diverse and consistent, the Djokovic forehand can effortlessly redirect shots and manipulate opponents.

As Nadal relayed to the Associated Press (via ESPN) after their recent match in Monte Carlo: "He's phenomenal in the way that he can move the ball to everywhere. If he takes advantage from inside the court, you are dead."

His backhand, unquestionably the best in the world, has lost none of its potency these last few years. No other human can simultaneously play defense and offense from that wing like Djokovic can. That weapon makes him beyond lethal from the baseline.

When he's not throwing in deft drop shots or biting slices, Djokovic shows no hesitancy coming to net. The Serbian has improved his volleying under the tutelage of coach Boris Becker, providing yet another tool to unleash on his rivals.

What gives him all those options is his movement and flexibility. The lithe, athletic Djokovic flies around the court and contorts his body like no other player. Somehow, he's even found a way to slide into his shots on hard courts. Kids, don't try that at home. 

And there's no denying Djokovic has transformed into one of the fittest men on tour. He once had a reputation for wilting late in big tournaments. Thanks to changes in his diet, he now seems to have endless energy and thrives the longer matches go.  

All those factors make playing him a scary proposition for the field. When Djokovic isn't bageling opponents, he breaks their will and finds ways to win even on days he's not at his best. 

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Against Tomas Berdych in the Monte Carlo final, Djokovic shrugged off a poor day by his standards and withstood a mighty effort from the Czech. With that title, he's the only man to ever claim the first three Masters Series events in a season.  

Limits? Not a word in his vocabulary. Based off his current form, don't mark anything as impossible—even a sweep of all nine Masters tournaments or a calendar Grand Slam. If anyone can pull off those unfathomable tasks, it's Djokovic.

Because he's winning so many titles, Djokovic has seized another record, according to ATPWorldTour.com's Josh Meiseles.

Novak Djokovic will have the largest points lead (5,400+) in the ATP rankings in 15 years when new ranks are released. 0 to defend in Madrid

— Josh Meiseles (@jmeistennis) April 19, 2015

The Serbian isn't passing the field—he's lapping them. And that success extends to all surfaces. From the Australian Open to Wimbledon, the red clay of Europe and everywhere in between, Djokovic gets enough exercise just by lifting trophies.

So where does he go from here?

Despite all that success, there's still something gnawing at him and driving his unrelenting hunger: a maiden French Open crown.

A successful conquest of Roland Garros is all that stands between Djokovic and a career Grand Slam. He's certainly come close, reaching the finals in 2012 and 2014 and pushing Nadal to the brink in their epic 2013 semifinal. 

Against his Spanish rival, Djokovic trails 23-20 in their tight head-to-head. Yet he's 0-6 against Nadal in Paris.

That statistic is the biggest blemish on Djokovic's resume. He's never been able to finish off Nadal at the French Open. But this year offers his best chance yet to win that elusive title.

Michel Spingler/Associated Press

Djokovic and Nadal are headed in polar opposite directions. Whereas the former is at the height of his powers, the latter suddenly faces mounting questions about his form. 

By virtue of his 19-7 record in 2015, Nadal is off to one of the poorest starts of his career. Four of those losses have come to players ranked outside the Top 20, and the Spaniard has just one victory over a top-10 player since last year's Roland Garros final.

An array of injuries plagued Nadal's 2014, and now he's struggling with sloppy play and diminished self-belief. That vulnerability leaves a golden opportunity for his nemesis.

Madrid and Rome are in Djokovic's immediate path, but his sights have been locked on the French Open for a long time. With Nadal's slump, he'll enter Paris as the favorite for the first time.

Should he triumph there and lift the Coupe de Mousquetaires trophy, Djokovic will erase the biggest burden from his shoulders. Then truly look out.

No matter what happens next month, Djokovic has already positioned himself as a transcendent player. But if he continues on his current clip, expect plenty more records to fall. 

All statistics are courtesy of ATPWorldTour.com unless otherwise noted. 

Joe Kennard is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. 



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