For the last four years, the clay-court swing on the men’s side has been a two-month, and mostly two-player, race to the finish line in Paris. Each of those years, Novak Djokovic has spent the majority of that race in the lead, only to see Roger Federer (once) and Rafael Nadal (three times) pass him on the final weekend in Paris.
The starter’s gun went off again last week in Monte Carlo, and Djokovic has wasted no time in grabbing pole position. The world No. 1 won his second title in his adopted home. He beat—or “brushed aside,” as one headline put it—Nadal by the routine scores of 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals. And he completed an unprecedented season-opening sweep of the first major and the first three Masters events.
As he has at all of those tournaments, Djokovic finished by grinding all hope out of a briefly hopeful final-round opponent. This time the victim was Tomas Berdych. The Czech made Djokovic wobble, but couldn’t make him fall down in a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 defeat. The biggest surprise was that, after going up 4-0 in the third, Djokovic couldn’t serve Berdych a concluding bagel, the way he did to Murray in Melbourne and Miami.
But if winning final sets 6-3 rather than 6-0 is your biggest issue, you’re doing something right. At the moment it’s Djokovic’s world, and the rest of the tour has to live in it. He’s 30-2 on the season, has won 18 straight matches, is 5,000 points ahead of No. 2 Roger Federer in the rankings, and has accrued more points in the Race to London than the next two players—Berdych and Andy Murray—combined.
After the final, Djokovic said it had been a battle, and that he had to “win ugly” to get through it. But he also couldn’t deny that he’s in an enviable position right now, one that doesn’t come often to tennis players.
“It’s been a remarkable start to the season for me,” he said. “Of course, couldn’t ask for a better start of the clay-court season.”
“So I’m healthy, obviously very confident,” he added a little later. “Everything is going in the right direction.”
Finally, Djokovic expanded his positive self-assessment to include his personal life.
“I’m 27. Obviously I’m experiencing the time of my life on the tennis court,” he said, “and also private life. Became a father, of course. I’m just trying sometimes to pinch myself and say, ‘Where [am I] at this point in my life? I’m grateful for this, for everything I’ve got.”