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Djokovic’s Season Ranks Among Greatest Ever, Becker Says

November 18, 2011

(Adds comments from Federer, Nadal from ninth paragraph.)

Nov. 18 (Bloomberg) -- Novak Djokovic’s near perfect tennis season, which included three major titles and a five-month win streak, is one of the greatest of all time, former Wimbledon champion Boris Becker said.

Djokovic didn’t lose until June, when his unbeaten 43-match run that began at December’s Davis Cup final was halted by Roger Federer at the French Open. The Serb’s haul of 10 titles includes the Australian Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open. After five years of losing in majors to 10-time Grand Slam winner Rafael Nadal, Djokovic, 24, beat the Spaniard in six finals, including at the All England Club and the U.S. Open. He knocked Nadal, 25, off the No. 1 ranking in July.

“I would consider that to be one of the very best years in tennis of all time,” Becker said in an interview yesterday in London. “He’s won three Grand Slams, he’s beaten the No. 1 player at the time in six consecutive finals. That has never happened.”

In September, Djokovic became the sixth man since tennis turned professional in 1968 to capture three Grand Slam singles titles in one season. Of that group, only Jimmy Connors and Federer have had a better season winning percentage. The American went 93-4, winning 95.9 percent of his matches, in 1974, while Federer went 92-5, or 94.9 percent, in 2006. The best belongs to John McEnroe, who went 82-3, or 96.5 percent, in 1984, when he took two major titles.

Djokovic is 69-4 this year, or a season-best 94.5 percent. He would move ahead of Federer if he wins the ATP World Tour Finals, and stays unbeaten in the group matches. He starts his quest for a second ATP Finals title Nov. 21 against Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic in London. Federer opens the tournament the day before against France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

‘Unbelievable Year’

“It may not be the best statistically, but he’s beaten Federer, he’s beaten Nadal, he’s beaten everybody that came around to challenge him in the biggest tournaments in the world,” Becker said of Djokovic. “That’s why I think it was just an unbelievable year.”

What sets Djokovic’s season apart is his win streak, said Becker, who took the first of three Wimbledon titles aged 17 in 1985. The 43-year-old German also won the Australian and U.S. Opens and is a former world No. 1.

“Yes, he lost in the semifinals of the French Open, but it was in a fantastic match against Federer,” Becker said. “And yes, he lost in the finals of Cincinnati to Andy Murray in August, but it’s still a big streak. That’s not the first round losing to a journeyman.”

Djokovic will be under a lot of pressure next season, Federer told reporters today at the O2 arena in London.

“He’s won all those matches in a row, so that will be the story at the beginning, can he do it again?,” the Swiss said. “It will be difficult for him.”

‘Bit of a High’

Even after such a successful season, Becker doesn’t rate the Serb as his top pick to win the title in London.

“My two favorites are Federer and Murray,” said Becker, who is an ambassador for Barclays Plc. “They are both on a bit of a high, they’ve won tournaments, their talent on that indoor surface is more natural than that of Nadal and Djokovic. They like the surface. And also, I think they need to win this title a bit more than Nadal and Djokovic at the moment.”

Bookmakers agree.

Defending champion Federer is the 15-8 favorite at U.K. bookmaker William Hill Plc to win a record sixth ATP World Tour Finals title. That means a successful $8 bet would return $15 plus the original stake. Britain’s Murray is second favorite at 11-4, followed by Djokovic at 4-1 and Nadal at 5-1.

Murray has lost one match and won three tournaments since reaching the U.S. Open semifinals. Federer, 30, enters the ATP Finals after winning back-to-back titles in Basel, Switzerland, and Paris. For the first time since 2002, Federer will be playing the ATP Finals without holding one of the year’s Grand Slam titles. He last won a major at the 2010 Australian Open.

“Roger is winning, Andy has had a very good end of the season,” Nadal told reporters today. “And Djokovic must have unbelievable confidence because of his season. Those are my favorites.”

Physical Toll

Djokovic also has struggled physically since winning his first U.S. Open title in September.

Six days after lifting the trophy in New York, he quit during a Davis Cup semifinal match against Argentina because of pain in his back and ribs. Following a six-week break during which he pulled out of tournaments in Shanghai and Beijing, he lost to 25th-ranked Kei Nishikori of Japan in the Basel semifinals. Last week, the Serb withdrew before the quarterfinals at the Paris Masters with a shoulder ailment.

“There is a price to pay for his performances, and he’s paying it now,” Becker said. “Mentally, he’s struggling a bit more than physically. He obviously can’t say ‘I’m a little bit tired of tennis at the moment’ so he is going to say ‘my shoulder hurts.’ I did it, everybody did it. But it’s natural for him to be a bit tired at the moment.”

--Editors: Christopher Elser, Dan Baynes

To contact the reporter on this story: Danielle Rossingh in London at drossingh@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at celser@bloomberg.net


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