Djokovic scales new heights

Shanghai Daily, August 16, 2011

Novak Djokovic has been out of this world this season but the world No. 1 says he is still just flesh and blood.

The Serbian won his ninth title of the season on Sunday with a 6-2, 3-6, 6-4 win over American Mardy Fish at the Rogers Cup in Montreal, improving his incredible match record to 53-1.

"I am human, I can definitely assure you of that," laughed Djokovic.

"I've been playing incredible tennis this year," added the Serb, who won the Australian Open and Wimbledon and became the first to capture five Masters Series events in a single season.

"I'm aware of the fantastic year that I've had and a great streak but I'm not thinking how many matches will I lose? I'm thinking how many matches will I win?"

The win also made him the first to capture an ATP tournament on debut as No. 1 since American Pete Sampras in 1993.

While Djokovic has hovered near the top of the rankings for several years, finishing No. 3 in the world the last four seasons, his transformation into the sport's dominant force has been both sudden and surprising.

In one of the most impressive tennis seasons on record, Djokovic's one and only loss was at the hands of Swiss maestro Roger Federer in the French Open semifinal.

Despite his sensational record this season, his rivals know he can be beaten.

"He plays incredible tennis but he's not an alien," said Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, after retiring with a sore arm in his Montreal semifinal against Djokovic. "He doesn't hit harder, he doesn't hit the ball earlier. But he's always there.

"He does not have the best return on the Tour. But on every return, he returns well, and he's always there. So what does it is his consistency, and he has no weaknesses."

Djokovic points to a new diet as a big part of his success but according to most observers the real difference in his game appears to be his attitude and mental toughness. The 24-year-old seems more willing to gut out close contests and do what it takes to win.

"Every knock he's answered 10-fold this year," said Fish. "It's been incredibly impressive.

"To win Indian Wells and Miami back-to-back is incredible. Then the two claycourt events, I mean, no one thought that that could be possible. He did it with straight sets both times. Pretty incredible."

The question heading into the US Open is can anyone stop the Serb, who has an unblemished 29-0 record on the hardcourts this season.

"I will be probably one of the favorites," said Djokovic. "This is nothing different from what I have experienced in grand slams in the last couple of years. Being one of the top players, you always have these expectations.

"My approach will not be different, that's for sure, for this grand slam. I will try to win every match I play on, not change any routine that I have.

"There is plenty of motivation and desire to continue on and play well and win matches and win tournaments."

Djokovic will continue his buildup to the year's final grand slam at Cincinnati this week where he could extend his record to six Masters Series titles in a season.