Key Biscayne title latest proof Djokovic playing at different level

by | CBSSports.com
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Novak Djokovic celebrates his win over Andy Murray in the finals. (US Presswire)  
Novak Djokovic celebrates his win over Andy Murray in the finals. (US Presswire)  

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- When the final point was his, Novak Djokovic raised his arms to the sky, let out a loud roar to the crowd and pumped his arms. It's a celebratory routine he has perfected time and again, especially recently.

Djokovic beat Andy Murray on Sunday 6-1, 7-6 (5) to win the Sony Ericsson Open. It was his third title at this tournament, including his breakthrough victory in 2007 and last year. The world's No. 1 player, who didn't lose a set in six rounds here, is now 20-2 this year and 90-8 since the start of 2011.

He has won five Grand Slam titles, including the past three in a row, and there doesn't seem to be anyone who can stop him. He might be ready to win a single-season Grand Slam. The last men's player to win all four majors in a calendar year was Rod Laver in 1969. The last women's player to do it was Steffi Graf in 1988.

If there is anyone who could do it in today's game, Djokovic is your man. He is playing on a different level than the rest of the field.

"He doesn't have many holes in his game," Murray said. "You have to be very patient and pick your moments to go for the right shots. That's why he's been so good the last 18 months. He was exceptional before then, but he's playing better tennis with more confidence and not making that many errors."

Murray has been one of the few roadblocks for Djokovic. He is only 4-2 against Murray since the start of the 2011 season, and Murray defeated Djokovic in Dubai earlier this year. But Djokovic was able to hold off Murray on Sunday, and he has dominated the rest of his competition.

Even the other elite players -- Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer -- have struggled against Djokovic. He is 7-0 against Nadal going back to last year, including victories in the past three Grand Slams at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and this year's Australian Open. And Djokovic is 4-1 against Federer since 2011.

His lone defeat against Federer came in the semifinals of the 2011 French Open, and Djokovic knows winning at Roland Garros on clay is the last major hurdle for him to overcome. That would give him a career Grand Slam and set him up for a historic year.

"I'm playing at the peak of my form, and I'm playing the best tennis that I have played," Djokovic said. "I have to use that as much as I can coming into every tournament that I play."

But Djokovic is aware that winning at any tournament is no easy feat. He continues to train at a high level and won't even allow a break in his training or his diet. Even after his victory here, there is no trip to a bakery for some dessert.

"I think I deserve a fresh bagel," Djokovic said. But that's as far as he will go.

Djokovic likes the way his career is headed, and he enjoys being the best player in the world. He is even getting attention from outside the tennis realm.

He used to be known more for his impersonations than his game -- go check out YouTube of him serving like Maria Sharapova or flipping his hair like Federer for a good laugh -- but he was featured on 60 Minutes last week, where he talked about growing up in Serbia during the 1999 NATO bombing of his country during the Kosovo War.

Djokovic and his family huddled in his grandfather's basement at night in Belgrade, during the bombings, but he was able to play tennis during the day. He hasn't forgotten those moments, and they continue to motivate him.

He is also motivated to remain the best player in the world -- and maybe make history along the way. He might not get a single-season Grand Slam. Run down the list of men's greats, and you will see where the likes of Pete Sampras, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Andre Agassi, among others, failed and only Laver succeeded.

Those players also had significant rivals, and Djokovic doesn't have that right now. He has proven to be better than Nadal and Murray, and Federer seems past his prime. Still, Djokovic has to remain perfect when it matters most in the Grand Slam events.

The French Open is next, followed by Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. If Djokovic is able to raise his arms in victory and win them all, then we could be witnessing one of the best years in tennis and one of the greatest achievements in all of sports.

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