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The Djoker's Wild

By Scott Riley,
Tennis Editor


Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Can Novak Djokovic be any hotter than he is right now?

Well...that answer would be no.

The Serbian slugger improved his 2011 season record to a sizzling 18-0 over the weekend, a mark that includes uber-sexy wins over the world's top-two players (well, they were the world's top-two players at the time) -- Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Nadal is still No. 1 by a wide points margin, while Federer dropped below "The Djoker" and down to third this week.

Djokovic is simply beating everyone in sight right now, and you would have to say that (as of March 2011) he's the No. 1 player on the planet.

Sorry, Rafa.

Sure, Nadal still holds three of the four major titles, but in a world of a "what have you done for me lately?" mentality, we have to measure performance in the current season, and Djokovic's current campaign is beyond compare.

Red-hot Novak Djokovic has won his last 20 matches, dating back to December.
"Nole" is already a perfect 3-0 against the former No. 1 Federer this year, and 1-0 versus Nadal. He came from behind to stun Rafa, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in Sunday's gripping finale at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which gave the Serbian star his 21st career ATP title -- and third of 2011 -- and sixth career Masters win. He also titled at Indian Wells back in 2008 and came up short against Nadal in the 2007 finale in the California desert.

When he upended Rafa on Sunday, Djokovic became only the third player to beat both Nadal and Federer in the same tournament on two occasions, joining Russian Nikolay Davydenko and Argentine David Nalbandian. Djokovic first defeated the dynamic duo of Nadal and Federer in back-to-back matches at the 2007 Masters event in Montreal.

"I am playing with a lot of confidence," Djokovic said. "I'm feeling the ball well on the court. I'm very dedicated. I have a big will to win each match I'm playing on, so it will not stop here, definitely. I want to keep on going and keep on playing good tennis. Hopefully I can recover and get ready for Miami."

Djokovic has owned Federer in '11, as he straight-setted the super Swiss in the Australian Open semifinals; straight-setted him again in the final in Dubai; and outlasted the 16-time major champion in three sets in the Indian Wells semis last week.

Djokovic captured his second career Australian Open title in January.
Note: Djokovic is also one of only four players (Nadal, Nalbandian and Andy Murray) to beat the great Federer three times in one calendar year.

The 23-year-old Djokovic captured his second career Aussie Open title back in January by besting his good friend Murray in the title tilt, and is a flawless 6-0 against his fellow top-10 stars this season.

Djokovic is still only 6-18 lifetime against Nadal, but the surging Serb has now won four of their last six encounters. The Spanish strongman beat Djokovic in last year's U.S. Open final and had been a sparkling 5-0 versus the Serb in their previous tour finals.

The Djoker also still has a losing record versus Federer (9-13), but the hot Serb has beaten the Swiss icon in each of their last three meetings.

Djokovic's windfall in Indian Wells was worth $611,000, pushing his career prize money over the $23-million mark. He's now seventh on the all-time money list, just behind Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov. Nole has surpassed the likes of all-time greats Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl on the money list this season.

For the record, Federer is the runaway all-time money leader, with more than $62 million in the bank.

Dating back to last year, the Belgrade native Djokovic actually owns a remarkable 20-match winning streak. He had a pair of singles wins in the Davis Cup final against France as he led Serbia to its first-ever title in that prestigious event in December.

Djokovic helped Serbia secure its first-ever Davis Cup championship last season.
Djokovic hasn't lost a match since Federer got him in the semifinals at the ATP World Tour Finals in November.

"I don't think anybody is unbeatable. I do have the best period of my life on the tennis court, but nobody is invincible," Djokovic said. "Still you are just trying to play your best in each match you're playing."

The ultra-talented Djokovic has quietly reached at least the quarterfinals in 13 of the last 15 Grand Slam events as well, with nine of them turning out to be semifinals or better. In addition to his two victories in Oz, the Djoker is also a two-time U.S. Open runner-up to Federer and Nadal, respectively. The excitable Serb has yet to reach finals at the French Open or Wimbledon.

Note: Djokovic (20 years old) was also the youngest-ever player in the Open Era to have reached the semis at all four Grand Slam events.

The Miami Masters event, dubbed the "Fifth Slam," will commence Wednesday at Crandon Park, where Djokovic would have to be considered the favorite, although he may be tired after running the table at IW.

Djokovic recently skipped Serbia's opening-round Davis Cup tie against Israel in order to prepare for the back-to-back Masters tournaments in California and Florida.

So far, I'd say that it's paying off.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.

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