Chapter 1: Djokovic’s Perfect Serve: The 2011 Season

by Michael Essany

This chapter is a free excerpt from Novak Djokovic.

July 4th, 2011 was truly Independence Day for Serbian pro tennis player Novak Djokovic.

The 24-year-old athlete was ranked No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

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July 4th, 2011 was truly Independence Day for Serbian pro tennis player Novak Djokovic.

The 24-year-old athlete was ranked No. 1 in the world for the first time in his career by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP).

Having now secured his eternal independence from tennis obscurity, Djokovic has quickly emerged as the sport’s newest icon.

In 2011, Djokovic left an indelible mark on the history of both tennis and the entire world of professional sports. Pete Sampras, a former top ranked American tennis player in his own right, believes Djokovic's season is the most impressive he has ever seen, referring to it as "one of the best achievements in all of sports” during an interview with thePalmBeachPost.

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By mid-summer, Novak Djokovic had won a staggering 97 percent of his matches for the year, and three of the four Grand Slam titles.  Like Sampras, tennis great John McEnroe told British publicationTheGuardian that Djokovic has enjoyed “the greatest year in the history of our sport.”

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Without hesitation, McEnroe asserted that Novak has single-handedly “taken tennis to new heights."

As a result of the relentless praise and dizzying victory percentage enjoyed by the “Serbian Sensation” during the first nine months of 2011, many believe that Novak Djokovic has served up an almost perfect season in the game of tennis.


The Road to Perfection

Novak Djokovic’s nearly blemish-free season began January 1st, 2011 in the Hopman Cup, the International Tennis Federation Mixed Team Championships exhibition tournament. Following the week-long tourney, Djokovic would leave the competition undefeated and fully warmed up for the first Major of the year, the 2011 Australian Open.

The 99th edition of the Australian Open commenced January 17th at Melbourne Park. Going into the Australian Open, Djokovic was seeded third behind Rafael Nadal and defending champion Roger Federer.

Bringing a high level of focus and intensity to the tournament, Djokovic launched his 2011 Australian Open romp with a victory over Marcel Granollers in the first round. Ivan Dodig, Nicolas Almagro, and Tomáš Berdych were the next to fall before Djokovic put down Roger Federer in straight sets to reach the final. He then defeated Andy Murray for his second Australian Open Championship and second Major win of his career.

By the close of January, Novak Djokovic was the year’s most successful player so far.

"Certainly this will give me a lot of motivation for the continuation of the season,” Djokovic said, according to theHuffingtonPost, following his most recent conquest. “To win a Grand Slam at the start of the season is the best start you can ask for. It means a world to me. I'm still 23. I still have a lot of time to go."

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For the remainder of the season, however, Djokovic didn’t play like a man who was nonchalant about time. In fact, Djokovic entered his next tournament - the ATP World Tour 500 2011 Dubai Tennis Championships – seeded second against first seed Roger Federer.

Ultimately, Djokovic would not be rattled by such high expectations. And he delivered in spades. Having largely manhandled his opponents in route to the final, Djokovic’s performance against Federer was equally commanding. Djokovic trounced Federer in two astonishingly lopsided sets.

Ironically, with his victory in this tournament, the Serbian joined Federer as the only players to have won three successive titles in Dubai.

“Anytime I win against Roger it's a great success because he's such a great player,” Djokovic told theATP following his dazzling triumph in Dubai. “We all know how mentally strong of a player he is. To be able to win against Roger in straight sets as I did tonight is incredible, but I want to keep on going. I know that I have qualities to do even more, and that's what I want.”

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“I have this feeling in my head, and it's really important to know for me that I can perform this well,” he added. “This match has probably been one of the best that I played this year. I want to keep it up, definitely. I feel physically well, fit, mentally motivated to do even more coming up to Indian Wells and Miami where I haven't done well in the last years.”


 Global Warming

During the late winter months of 2011, Novak Djokovic was on fire on courts across the globe, winning tournaments and championships with a degree of ease that seemed impossible to maintain for the remainder of the season.

But as Djokovic stormed the court in the 2011 BNP Paribas Open, the Serbian superstar would reach the final in swift fashion by once again defeating Roger Federer in the semifinals to bring about a match with the world’s top ranked player, Rafael Nadal.

If Djokovic had any self-doubt heading into Indian Wells, his game didn’t reflect the slightest apprehension. And neither did the outcome. Djokovic extended his winning streak to twenty consecutive matches with his imposing victory over Nadal, 4–6, 6–3, 6–2

By late March, Novak Djokovic’s world ranking had climbed to No. 2.

Heading into Key Biscayne, Miami for the second ATP Masters tournament of the year (the 2011 Sony Ericsson Open) Djokovic didn’t stutter-step following his flawless first quarter of play in 2011.

With momentum at his back, Djokovic reached his fourth consecutive final of the year, where he would once again defeat Nadal in a grueling match that spanned nearly 3 ½ hours before a record crowd of 14,625 fans.

TheATP would subsequently refer to the contest as one of the most electrifying men’s singles finals in Sony Ericsson Open history.

While Djokovic was somewhat coy about his ascendance to the top of the game, Nadal saw the writing on the wall following his defeat in Miami.

“I think he's going to be No. 1,” Nadal confessed to the ATP.  “I don't feel like he's breathing on my neck … but he won two tournaments in a row right now, very big tournaments, as well as one Grand Slam. Normal thing is he will be No. 1 in the next month, month and a half, two months. I don't know ...”

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Departing Miami, Djokovic’s winning streak had now ballooned to 26 consecutive matches. Having not yet lost a singles match since before the Davis Cup Final in December 2010, Djokovic was the first player to win the Australian Open, Indian Wells, and Miami Masters triple, since Roger Federer last accomplished the feat five years earlier.
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