x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Rafael Nadal resigned to his fate as Djokovic closes in

Novak Djokovic no longer is just a young guy on a hot streak. He could be world No 1 in a matter of weeks, if not days, and a certain informed observer of the game believes he will be.

Novak Djokovic could displace Rafael Nadal as world No 1 if he can win his next tournament in Rome and the Spaniard fails to make the last four.
Novak Djokovic could displace Rafael Nadal as world No 1 if he can win his next tournament in Rome and the Spaniard fails to make the last four.

Novak Djokovic no longer is just a young guy on a hot streak. He could be world No 1 in a matter of weeks, if not days, and a certain informed observer of the game believes he will be.

"The No 1 ranking is not in danger, it's finished," Rafael Nadal said after Djokovic dispatched him in straight sets on clay on Sunday. "Let's not lie to ourselves, that's the reality."

If or, as Nadal seems to believe, when Djokovic displaces him as No 1 it will rank as a historical event in the men's game, ending a seven-plus-year period, going back to February of 2004, during which only Roger Federer or Nadal have been top ranked.

Nadal's dominance of Djokovic on clay was shattered in the final at Madrid as the Spaniard lost to the Serb for the first time in their 10 meetings on the surface.

Djokovic already had amply demonstrated he could defeat Nadal on other surfaces; clay was Nadal's last refuge, and now it has been breached.

"If I want to reach No 1 I will have to play consistently well because that's what Rafa and the other players will do," Djokovic said. "Probably because of my winning streak and being in the shape of a lifetime, I'm playing the best tennis of my career."

Djokovic as No 1 soon is built on the assumption that one Nadal defeat on clay, his first in his past 38 matches on the surface, will soon be followed by another.

Djokovic could be No 1 as soon as next Monday if he can win in Rome this week and Nadal goes out of the tournament before the semi-finals.

A more realistic scenario would have Djokovic winning the French Open in early June, where he is defending only a quarter-final appearance from last year, and grabbing No 1 there.

What Nadal seemed to be hinting at, however, is a longer-term assessment: that even if he can hold off Djokovic through the clay season, the Serb's dominance on grass and hard courts will push him to the top this summer.

He has yet to lose a match this year; his 32-0 start to the season is second in history only to John McEnroe's 42-0 start in 1984.

He seems in the sort of form that athletes sometimes refer to as "the zone", when a difficult sport for a time seems almost absurdly easy.

"Things have changed, I have a different mindset right now, I'm more stable and I know how to think right," Djokovic said.

Nadal, meanwhile, is already making peace with the idea of vacating the top spot. "If I lose No 1 it's not the end of the world. If I lose it I will be No 2 and I'll be very happy," he said.

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae