What a year, but can he do it again?

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

NO­VAK DJOKOVIC is about to find out what it takes to fol­low up on a nearly un­beat­able sea­son.

The 24-year-old Serb won three of the four Grand Slams ti­tles, lifted seven other tro­phies and wrested the No 1 rank­ing from Rafael Nadal. His 70-6 record in­cluded a stag­ger­ing 41-match win­ning streak to be­gin the sea­son.

“It was in­cred­i­ble,” Djokovic said. “I made so many wins in a row that I re­ally didn’t count any more. “

Djokovic even­tu­ally fell one short of match­ing John Mcen­roe’s record of 42 straight wins to be­gin the 1985 sea­son. De­spite that, the Amer­i­can great said the tougher com­pe­ti­tion and greater ath­leti­cism in to­day’s game made the Serb’s feat “more im­pres­sive”.

The run also in­cluded four wins over Nadal, all in fi­nals. Two of them came on the Spa­niard’s favourite, clay.

Djokovic, who won the Aus­tralian Open early in the sea­son, fi­nally lost in June when Roger Fed­erer pre­vailed in the French Open semi-fi­nals. But the Serb quickly picked him­self up and swept the Wim­ble­don and US Open ti­tles.

Fed­erer seemed cer­tain to beat Djokovic again in New York. He held two match points on serve in the fifth set of their semi-fi­nal, but Djokovic saved both – the first with a blis­ter­ing fore­hand re­turn win­ner that was one of the year’s most mem­o­rable mo­ments.

It was also the per­fect demon­stra­tion of the be­lief that Djokovic says was the key to his dra­matic im­prove­ment af­ter a three-year gap since his first Grand Slam ti­tle in 2008.

“The truth is that, this year, men­tally I am more ma­ture and a stronger player,” he said. “I be­lieve on the court more in my qual­i­ties, and more that I can win against Fed­erer and Nadal and all the top play­ers.”

While Djokovic’s con­fi­dence soared, Nadal’s seemed to drain away a lit­tle more with each loss. His three ti­tles for the sea­son was his worst haul since 2004, and af­ter months of com­plain­ing about the hec­tic cal­en­dar, Nadal left the sea­son-end­ing ATP World Tour Fi­nals stat­ing that he had a “lit­tle bit less pas­sion for the game”.

Spain’s Davis Cup win – their fifth since 2000 – at least pro­vided a sil­ver lin­ing to a dif­fi­cult sea­son, but Nadal said drop­ping the team com­pe­ti­tion from his sched­ule in 2012 would be part of his mis­sion to turn around his for­tunes.

When Djokovic’s phe­nom­e­nal sea­son fi­nally took its toll on his body – four of his six losses for the year came af­ter the US Open – it wasn’t Nadal who took ad­van­tage but Fed­erer and Andy Murray.

Murray, who spent the whole sea­son in the top four, but still ended it with­out a first Grand Slam, won three straight ti­tles in Asia while Fed­erer ended the sea­son with a 17- match win­ning streak which cul­mi­nated in a record sixth ti­tle at the yearend cham­pi­onships in Lon­don.

The 16- time Grand Slam cham­pion went through a sea­son with­out a Ma­jor for the first time since 2002.

The fail­ure of women’s No 1 Caro­line Woz­ni­acki to cap­ture one of the big four tour­na­ments was an­other of the sea­son’s talk­ing points.

The 21-year-old Dane, whose boyfriend Rory Mcil­roy won his first golf Ma­jor in 2011, fin­ished the year as the top-ranked player thanks to six WTA Tour ti­tles even though she didn’t even reach a sin­gle Grand Slam fi­nal.

It was 21- year- old Czech Pe­tra Kvi­tova who was named player of the year af­ter a break- through sea­son in which she won Wim­ble­don, led her coun­try to the Fed Cup ti­tle and tri­umphed at the sea­son-end­ing WTA Tour Cham­pi­onships.

Kim Cli­jsters won her fourth Grand Slam ti­tle at the Aus­tralian Open, while Li Na of China won her first at the French Open to be­come Asia’s first Ma­jor sin­gles cham­pion.

De­spite a slump in form af­ter Roland Gar­ros, the 29- year- old Li was listed by Forbes as the eighth high­estearn­ing fe­male ath­lete in the world in July. As China’s most suc­cess­ful sport­ing ex­port, she is ex­pected to top that list in 2012. – Sapa-ap

MAGIC YEAR: No­vak Djokovic surged to the top of the world rank­ings with three Grand Slam ti­tles.

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