IT'S tough to decide what's most impressive about Novak Djokovic's 37-0 record in 2011, the best start in men's tennis in more than a quarter-century.
Djokovic has won all seven tournaments he's entered, including the Australian Open; he never had collected more than five titles in a full season. He's a combined 7-0 against Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, two men who dominated him and the sport the past several years. He's 13-0 against all top-10 players. He leads the ATP in return games won and is second in service games won.
The No. 1-ranked Nadal summed it up simply, saying: "He is doing amazing things."
Nadal should know.
He is 0-4 against the second-ranked Djokovic this season, including straight-set losses in the finals on clay at Madrid and Rome this month. Those matches -- and Djokovic's body of work all year -- completely change the dynamic heading to the French Open, the clay-court Grand Slam tournament that begins next weekend.
Nadal has won five of the past six titles at Roland Garros; Djokovic never has made it past the semifinals there. But Djokovic, who turns 24 the day the French Open starts, has the momentum and mental edge at the moment, including this tidbit: He is the first player to beat Nadal twice on clay in the same season.
"Let us be clear: He is the 'King of Clay,' and he is the best player ever to play on this surface," Djokovic said after beating Nadal 6-4, 6-4 in Sunday's Italian Open final, one week after his straight-set victory in the Madrid Open final. "I have won against him twice in the last eight days, which I think is incredible, an incredible achievement for me, and has given me a lot of confidence for the French Open."
Listen to Djokovic enough, and you'll hear that word "confidence" over and over again.
He credits his recent run to a boost of self-belief he got while helping Serbia beat France in December to win its first Davis Cup. Djokovic won both his matches during that best-of-five final, the start of what now has become a 39-match winning streak overall.
-- The Associated Press