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Novak Djokovic: A Star in the Making

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Novak Djokovic has designs on being the No. 1 tennis player in the world, and it would appear that his wish could become a reality in the not too distant future.

The 20-year-old Serb pulled off some beautiful upsets in Montreal last week, including a thrilling three-set stunner against the great world No. 1 Roger Federer in the finale at the Rogers Masters. Djokovic also beat No. 3 Andy Roddick in the quarterfinals, and shocked No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the semis.

When he bested Federer on Sunday, Djokovic became the first player in 13 years to beat the top-three players in the world in the same tournament. The legendary Boris Becker turned the trick in Stockholm back in 1994, as the big German dropped No. 3 Michael Stich in the quarters, No. 1 Pete Sampras in the semis and No. 2 Goran Ivanisevic in the final.

Not too shabby.

FYI, the all-around star that is Djokovic (pronounced jo-ko-VICH) idolized Sampras as a child while growing up in Belgrade.

Novak Djokovic
Novak Djokovic has reached three of the six Masters Series finals so far this season, winning two.
Djokovic himself is now ranked third in the world, behind only Federer and Nadal. The "Djoker," who also became the first person to beat both Federer and Nadal in the same event, had been 0-5 in his previous career tilts versus the "Fed."

Needless to say, Federer is among the many who are impressed with Djokovic's ever-growing game.

"Like I've said, he's an up-and-coming youngster who is improving almost by the day. He's been able to back it up for basically a year now. If he keeps this up, he's going to create some chances at the Grand Slams because he's been to two semifinals already. This [Montreal] might be a breakthrough tournament for him."

A six-time champion on the ATP, Djokovic already owns four titles this season, including a pair of Masters Series shields, and has appeared in three Masters Series finales in 2007, all on hardcourts in North America. He also ran the table at Miami's prestigious Masters Series event back in late-March/early- April, just after he succumbed to Nadal in the Masters Series title bout at Indian Wells.

The 6-foot-2, 177-pound Djokovic opened up his promising '07 campaign by titling in Adelaide, but wound up losing to the amazing Federer in the fourth round at the Aussie Open, which the super Swiss, of course, went on to capture.

He lost to Federer again in a quarterfinal in Dubai, in another event won by the slugging Swiss, and then reached the back-to-back Masters Series finals at Indian Wells and Miami. After losing to Nadal in the Indian Wells championship match, he stunned Nadal in the quarters the following week in Miami, where the surging Serb went on to beat rugged Argentine Guillermo Canas in the final. The high-flying Canas was also hot at the time, as he'd shocked the sublime Federer at both the Indian Wells and Miami extravaganzas.

Djokovic wound up losing to Nadal, again, on red clay at the Italian Masters; gave way to Nadal in the French Open semis; and was knocked out by Nadal, yet again, in the Wimbledon SFs.

I was starting to sense a pattern.

But Djokovic, the son of pizzeria and pancake restaurant owners Srdjan and Dijana, got it all together last week, winning all five of his matches en route to some more hardware and a $400,000 windfall. In addition to slaying Federer, Nadal and Roddick, the superb Serb also took out former top-10 stars David Nalbandian and Nicolas Kiefer, as he clearly had one of the best-ever weeks at a Masters Series tourney. He dropped only one set all week, and that didn't come until the second stanza in the finale against Federer. At one point he rattled off a combined five straight set victories against Roddick, Nadal and Federer.

Awesome.

By the way, Djokovic has already played Nadal six times this year, going just 2-4. And he's 2-5 lifetime versus the gritty Spaniard, who's a perfect 3-0 in their career Grand Slam matchups.

Djokovic, who turned pro in 2003 and inexplicably bounces the ball upwards of 20 times prior to each serve, is a solid 52-12 this year, and his win total is certainly going to increase. His prize money for '07 is already up over the $2.3 million mark, and that's a number that's also going to swell some more.

Most tennis people feel that Djokovic is the closest thing to Federer on the tour, and I'm one of 'em. Yes, that includes Nadal. Nadal is very talented, of course, but it's plain to see that both Federer and Djokovic are the purer shotmakers and that the Swiss and the Serb both move around the court with more elegance...grace...ease.

It's also clear that the ATP is currently a three-horse race between Federer, Nadal and Djokovic, and everyone else is trying to catch this trio of stalwarts. Good luck to the Roddicks, Davydenkos and Gonzalezes of the world.

Federer already owns 11 major titles, while Nadal checks in with a trio of French Open crowns and Djokovic appears to be closing in on a first major, whether it comes at the U.S. Open next month, or at the Australian Open in January, or wherever. It's coming. He'll certainly be among the favorites in Flushing in a couple weeks.

Djokovic, who currently leads the U.S. Open Series by virtue of his run in Montreal, entered this year at No. 16 in the world, and has rushed all the way up to No. 3 with a bullet.

Watch out, the Djoker's ready for his close-up.

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


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