Djokovic rolls into Miami
Miami - Novak Djokovic, whose 18-0 start this year is the best by any man since Ivan Lendl's 25-0 run in 1986, brings his unstoppable form to Miami for a $9 million ATP and WTA hardcourt event that starts on Tuesday.
The 23-year-old Serbian world number two dispatched top-ranked Rafael Nadal 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 at the Indian Wells final after having ousted Roger Federer in the semi-finals to move above the Swiss legend in the rankings.
"I think he did better than possible to start one season," Nadal said of Djokovic. "He's playing well. He's in the right place at the right moment."
Djokovic won seventh matches to claim his second Australian Open title, took five more to win at Dubai last month and triumphed six times in the California desert for the Indian Wells crown.
"I've played the best tennis of my life in the last three months," Djokovic said. "I'm playing with a lot of confidence. I'm feeling the ball well on the court. I'm very dedicated. I have a big will to win each match I'm playing.
"I want to keep on going and keep on playing good tennis. Hopefully I can recover and get ready for Miami."
If he does, is anybody else ready to derail the Djokovic juggernaut?
"I don't think anybody is unbeatable," Djokovic said. "I do have the best period of my life on the tennis court, but nobody is invincible. Still you are just trying to play your best in each match you're playing."
Djokovic has not lost since falling to Federer in last year's ATP World Finals semi-final in London.
And his win streak does not include two triumphs to help Serbia win last year's Davis Cup or three round-robin wins in Perth at the Hopman Cup.
"He has confidence," Nadal said. "He's playing well. He's a very good player. We will see when he loses the first time. I don't know if it's going to happen in Miami or happen in Monte Carlo or not going to happen."
Federer is 18-3 this season with all three losses coming to Djokovic.
"It's normal that in your career you go through better and worse spells. It's just important to keep it at the high level," Federer said. "That's what he's been able to do for many years now."
When it comes to finishing the year atop the rankings, even Nadal agrees, "Djokovic is in the best position" but warns, "We will see what is going on in the clay season."
The clay-court campaign that follows Miami and peaks at the French Open is not a worry for Djokovic, a two-time Roland Garros semi-finalist.
"I believe I can play well on that surface and I have proven that in the past couple of years," he said. "I'm aware that, in order to win trophies on that surface, big ones, I will need to be physically very, very fit."
American Andy Roddick, ranked eighth, is the defending champion at Miami. Djokovic won his only Miami crown in 2007. Federer won at Miami in 2005 and 2006 while Nadal has never captured the Miami title.
Women's world number one Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark is the Miami favourite after defeating France's Marion Bartoli 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 on Sunday for her 14th career WTA crown.
But second-ranked Kim Clijsters, the reigning US Open champion from Belgium, is the defending Miami champion, having beaten Venus Williams in last year's final.
Clijsters also won the Miami crown in 2005 but her fitness is in question as she pulled out of her fourth round match at Indian Wells last week with shoulder problems.
But ninth-ranked Williams, a three-time Miami champion, will miss this year's event with an abdominal injury.
And her sister Serena Williams, a five-time winner at Miami, is still recovering from surgery earlier this month for a blood clot in her lungs.
Top rivals to Clijsters and Wozniacki include Russia's third-ranked Vera Zvonareva, Italy's fourth-ranked Francesca Schiavone, fifth-rated Samantha Stosur of Australia, China's No. 6 Li Na and seven-ranked Serbian Jelena Jankovic.
Women's play begins on Tuesday with the men starting on Wednesday and top seeds receiving first-round byes.