ibnlive » Tennis

Dec 31, 2011 at 01:40pm IST

Novak Djokovic steps it up in 2011

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. I was just trying to play one match at the time and trying to think how long the streak will go on, not when it will end."

Novak Djokovic steps it up in 2011

The Serb won three of the four grand slam titles to round off a truly remarkable year.

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 favorite surface, 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.

It was also the perfect demonstration of the belief that Djokovic says was the key to his dramatic improvement in 2011 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, 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.

"My goal is always the same, be a better player in 2012 than I was in 2011," Nadal said.

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 year-end championships in London.

"To win Grand Slams would be nice," Federer said of his aim for 2012. "I feel like it might be around the corner."

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 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 Petra Kvitova who was named player of the year after a breakthrough season in which she won Wimbledon, led the Czech Republic to the Fed Cup title and triumphed at the season-ending WTA Tour Championships.

"This season has been simply a dream," the 21-year-old Czech said.

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 highest-earning female athlete in the world in July. As China's most successful sporting export, she is expected to top that list in 2012.

For Serena Williams, a 13-time Grand Slam champion and former No 1, being on court at all was an achievement in itself after life-threatening blood clots on her lungs.

She returned after nearly a year away in June with what she called a "new perspective on life.''

However, Williams was beaten by Sam Stosur in the finals of the US Open, as the Australian celebrated her maiden grand slam success.

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