Novak Djokovic became the first man to win the first three ATP Masters 1000 titles of the year on Sunday, beating No. 8 Tomas Berdych 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 to win his second Monte Carlo Masters title.
Three thoughts on Djokovic's dominant form:
1. Djokovic's 2011 Redux: In his signature 2011 season, Djokovic won three of the four majors and started the season on a 41-match win streak. He didn't take his first loss until the French Open semifinals. He went 6-0 against an in-form Rafael Nadal, all in finals, and finished the season with 11 titles, five of which were Masters shields.
Monte Carlo Masters 2015
Tomas Berdych, Novak Djokovic
There may not be any eye-popping streaks to draw attention to what Djokovic is doing in 2015 but he is just as dominant now as he was in 2011. Djokovic has now won four consecutive Masters titles dating back to the Paris Indoor Masters last fall and has won the last six big ATP tournaments, which include the lasts four Masters, the ATP World Tour Finals and the Australian Open. The win over Berdych moves his current win streak to 17-0. His last loss came to Roger Federer in the Dubai final in February.
After winning Monte Carlo, Djokovic said his confidence levels are about where they were in 2011. He's stepping on the court expecting to win and that belief never wavers even when he struggles through a bad mid-match patch. He did not play his best tennis on Sunday, chalking it up to fatigue after a mentally and physically tough win over Rafael Nadal on Saturday.
2. One thing that Djokovic has done more of in 2015 is winning ugly. He was in full-flight for most 2011, playing near-perfect tennis almost every time he stepped on court. That hasn't been the case this year. He has at times looked vulnerable.
But he's been impressive when faced with resistance this year. He bested Murray in four sets at the Australian Open. Rallied from a disappointing loss of the second set to beat Federer at Indian Wells. Beat Murray again in three sets in Miami. Now he practically runs away with it in three sets against Berdych, building a 4-0 lead quickly in the final frame on Sunday.
On Sunday, Djokovic said he won because of his heart, not his game. Ask any player and they will tell you that confidence comes not just from winning, but winning when you're not playing your A-game. No wonder Djokovic is full of it now. He can still has room to elevate his game if he needs to.
Berdych's consistency goes both ways: The Czech is having a great season. He's made the semifinals or better at six of his seven tournaments, including three finals. But he's now 0-3 in finals this year and 2-7 against the Top 10. Those two wins came over a spotty Nadal in Melbourne and via a retirement this week from Milos Raonic. The consistency means he's putting himself in position to challenge the top guys but the inability to crack through endures as a running theme in his career.
3. Djokovic still isn't the French Open favorite...yet: I know, I know. What more does he have to do to earn that respect? But Roland Garros is still five weeks away and a lot can change. Nadal could suddenly find his A-game and go into the French Open full of confidence. Federer could also find his clay legs to get into the mix.
And we have seen Djokovic go into Paris on a roll before, only to fall short. He swept the clay lead-ups in 2011, beating Nadal twice, only to lose to Federer in the French Open semifinals. He won Monte Carlo in 2013 and lost to Nadal in the French Open final. Last year he beat Nadal in the Rome final only to lose to him in Paris again. Rafa is simply a different beast in Paris. Anyone who has won that tournament nine times, taking just one loss in 10 years, deserves the benefit of the doubt. For now.