May 3, 2011

Could This Be It?

One long winning streak is going to end this week in Madrid -- that I can guarantee.

Novak Djokovic, of course, is riding a wave of twenty-nine consecutive victories when you count his Davis Cup wins that capped off 2010. That's led to five trophies on the year -- one Major and two Masters -- and sparked speculation that he's the favorite to end the year at #1. It certainly seems like the Serb is unbeatable -- he quieted critics who contend he's just a one-surface player by taking the trophy in Belgrade last week, his fifth on clay, and he gets right back to work this week in Madrid, where he made the semis in his last appearance two years ago.

Not surprisingly, he lost that match to world #1 and Clay Court King Rafael Nadal. He comes to his country's capital with a thirty-two match, six title streak on the surface -- one which saw him claim a record eighteenth (now twenty) Masters crown. He has an intimidating 93% record on the dirt and thirty-one trophies as proof of his dominance. But only one of those came in Madrid when it was played on clay -- his devastating loss to Roger Federer in the 2009 final was one of only two losses on the surface that year.

And so we've come to the first clay court tournament of the year with both Rafa and Nole in the draw -- and at least one has to lose.

They're, of course, slated to meet in the final, but there are a couple threats to their both getting there. Nadal faces a stacked draw that includes unseeded Estoril champion Juan Martin Del Potro in his quarter. And his 2009 French Open vanquisher Robin Soderling and Roger Federer, never to be discounted, loom in the same half. Djokovic could face a fourth round match-up with suddenly surging David Ferrer, runner-up to Nadal at their last two tournaments -- he's riding a wave of momentum that shows no signs yet of subsiding.

But if the latest "match everyone wants to see" does come to fruition, it might not be the blowout we all expect -- though Rafa remains unbeaten by Nole on clay, he was pushed to three sets in all but one of their last seven meetings. And Djokovic notched his first finals victory against Nadal in Indian Wells. I'm not quite ready to predict an end to the Spaniard's streak, but if anyone's going to put a stop to it, it seems appropriate it should be the man who's already foiled two attempts this year to add to his trophy case.

And whichever stretch ends this week, we can be sure it will soon be replaced by a new one.

1 comment:

Paula V. said...

I'm giving the edge to Rafa. As good as Nole is at the moment, I don't think he can beat Rafa on clay.