By Alexandra Willis
in Indian Wells
20 March 2011
Novak Djokovic out-fought the game’s prize fighter to win the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, coming from behind to defeat Rafael Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 and extend his figures for the 2011 season to 21-0.
Despite coming out of the blocks marginally slower than his esteemed opponent, the Serb, who will claim the world No.2 ranking tomorrow when the ATP computers tick over to another week, flew by the seat of his pants, demonstrating what improved fitness and a willingness to swing has done for his tennis. Reeling off two breaks to claim the second set, the Australian Open champion broke again and again at the start of the third, leaving an increasingly bewildered Nadal with a long tunnel to claw back through. In the end, it proved too much of an ask for the world No.1, and Djokovic served out the match with an exuberant celebration that left no doubt what the win meant to him.
It is Djokovic’s 21st consecutive win without loss in 2011, during which time he has dropped just six sets, the best start to the season by any player on the ATP World Tour since Ivan Lendl registered a 25-0 winning streak in 1986. Beginning with three straight wins at the Hopman Cup in Perth, Djokovic blitzed through seven matches to win the Australian Open, five to win the Dubai title, before completing another run of six at the Indian Wells tennis garden. Add to that the two Davis Cup matches won at the end of his 2010 season, and you have an unbeaten streak of 23-0.
Not only that, it is the calibre of the opponents he has beaten that will give his adversaries reason to run scared in the coming weeks. Three wins against Roger Federer in three months, a straight sets demolition of Andy Murray in the Australian Open final, and now this, his first win over Nadal since the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals in 2009, when Nadal was practically one-legged. Even more tellingly, it is also Djokovic’s first win against Nadal in a final of any sort, having previously surrended five titles to the muscular Mallorcan, the most recent of which was the 2010 US Open.
Elevated to the No.2 ranking for the first time since February last year, Djokovic will now be setting his sights on the No.1 ranking as he goes into next week’s Sony Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Miami. The Indian Wells-Miami double is as notoriously difficult as the Channel Slam feat of winning the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back, and the burn out is bound to come eventually, but in his current form, Djokovic is giving no quarter.