Novak Djokovic hits 20 in Miami: Who can stop him?
The dominant Serb records his 20th straight victory of 2011 after beating James Blake in straight sets
Here we are at the fourth round of the Miami Masters, and the Novak Djokovic story has changed little since the first day of 2011. He is still winning.
But not only is the dominant Serb winning -20 matches without loss thus far -he’s doing it in a style that must be sending a shiver through the tour.
And not only has he won all three tournaments he’s played but he’s done it for the loss of only five sets: two of them to men who were, at the time, Nos1 and 2 in the world.
In Miami, he has barely lost a game -three in two matches, to be precise -and the man he now faces, compatriot Viktor Troicki, managed just one game against him last week in Indian Wells.
Beyond that? Well at best Djokovic faces the No30 seed, John Isner, so it looks, at worst, like another semi-final place, and that would take him to 22 wins on the trot. No wonder he sounds confident: “I think I’m quite a complete player.”
All the signs are that he will face one of the last four standing in Indian Wells, but the one he didn’t meet there: Juan Martin Del Potro.
The style and speed of the Argentine’s return to centre stage has been impressive, but most experts anticipated a tight match between Del Potro and another big man with a big game, the Swede Robin Soderling.
There were two question marks, though. Did the Argentine have enough in the tank after a succession of good runs so early in his comeback season? And was Soderling still carrying a foot problem?
It transpired that neither was an issue. Del Potro simply brought his best power game to the table, broke in the fourth game of the first set and ran to a 6-3 advantage.
The punishment continued into the second set with an immediate break of the Soderling serve and another break at 4-2 to speed Del Potro’s run to a straightforward win.
Soderling did not manage a single break point, even against Del Potro’s 57 percent first serve rate, and that was a reflection of the Argentine’s power off the ground rather than any particular Soderling weakness.
David Ferrer is still a factor in Del Potro’s quarter, and his was a harder win over Somdev Devvarman than the 6-4, 6-2 score suggested. It took Ferrer an hour and 40 minutes in blistering heat, together with all his terrier-like skills and some decent net attack, to get the better of the Indian’s nimble footwork.
Ferrer, though, does not have the power to hit through the court in the way that Del Potro can, and -give or take the challenge of a Mardy Fish starting to find his form of last summer -the unseeded Argentine looks a shoo-in for the semis.
The upper half of the draw has continued the trend that began in the first round of the Floridian heat: The surprises flowed.
Although No13 seed Mikhail Youzhny looked in fine fettle after his first match, losing just one game, he faded badly against the unexpected challenge of Olivier Rochus.
The Belgian had fought through two three-setters in his first rounds, and he had to fight through another against the Russian. It looked, initially, as though the flair and slice of Youzhny would give him another near-whitewash when he took the opener 6-1, but Rochus produced some neat, all-court play to pull back a win in 6-3, 6-3.
It was one of many close, highly competitive matches that have characterised this year’s Miami with, in the end, just one point separating the two men: 84 to 83.
Monday turned out to be a day of hard work for several other seeds, too. Tomas Berdych took two and a quarter hours to battle through the No71-ranked Argentine, Carlos Berlocq, in two arduous sets.
The pleasing factor in the Berdych game, though, was the frequency with which he approached the net. This added dimension to his game is what may take the tall Czech to the next level and, with the unseeded Florian Mayer as his fourth-round opponent, Berdych may soon have the chance to find out how he measures up against the best, Rafael Nadal.
Federer also had his work cut out by Argentine Juan Monaco, the lowest seed in the draw.
Federer drew first blood to go 2-0 up but was pulled back by some Ferrer-like persistence and accuracy that kept Monaco in the long rallies and drew a steady flow of errors from an overhitting Federer.
The Swiss had three break points to win the opening set but played five errors in a row and it went to a tie-breaker. Eventually, Federer put together some calm, tactical points to edge the set.
Monaco continued to play attacking and confident tennis, but the balance of power went Federer’s way in the decisive ninth game, leaving him to serve out the set and the match, 6-4.
Federer is rarely kept on court for an hour and three-quarters -especially in a straight-sets match. It was a credit to Monaco that he made his illustrious opponent fight every inch of the way.
The slow, humid conditions certainly did not favour the serve-and-volley game of Feliciano Lopez and, like many others in Miami, he had two long three-setters in his legs already. So against an opponent of Nadal’s calibre, he was always going to struggle, and he did. The No1 advanced, 6-3, 6-3.
So the biggest challenges to Djokovic are still heading nicely through the draw. Federer and Nadal may first have to play each other for the privilege of that final showdown with the Serb, and he will be pretty happy with that. Not only will they have a fight on their hands in the semis, he knows he beat both of them only last week.
So who can stop Novak? Right now, it could be no-one.