Why Djokovic needs to win 44 straight matches
It is not at all likely. Still, technically, it is possible.
Novak Djokovic could record tennis' greatest single season in the modern era, in terms of winning percentage. The 24-year-old Serb, taking a breather before the North American hard-court circuit, is an astounding 48-1 this year. A loss in the semifinals to Roger Federer at Roland Garros is the only smudge on his record.
If he stays healthy and plays in the eight tournaments remaining on his schedule -- including the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals and the Davis Cup semifinals and finals -- Djokovic has the potential to win 44 more matches. That would put him at 92-1, ahead of the best single-season marks on record.
The math: 92-1 (.9892), would be better than Martina Navratilova's virtuoso 1983 season, when she went 86-1 (.9885). Steffi Graf has the second-best record, 86-2 in 1989, which works out to .977.
No, of course, it won't happen. He'll have a difficult enough time getting through the maximum 17 matches at Montreal, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open.
People who understand these things feel that Djokovic is likely to hit a wall at some point and lose three or four matches, maybe even five or six. Although Rafael Nadal is 0-5 against Djokovic this year -- all in finals, most recently at Wimbledon -- you get the idea the quest for the No. 1 ranking will fuel a predatory fall. Can you imagine a Davis Cup finals showdown? Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion, seems primed to find his form by the time the U.S. Open kicks off. It seems as though Federer still has another run left in him. And Andy Murray remains dangerous, even without a major to his name.
In retrospect, Navratilova's 1983 season seems almost surreal. The only loss was to Kathy Horvath in the fourth round at the French Open. That ended a 54-match winning streak.
Six years later, Graf nearly matched that.
In 1988, the German had gone 72-3, winning all four Grand Slam singles titles and the Olympic gold medal. She won her fifth consecutive major, the 1989 Australian Open, and took the next four tournaments. But in the Amelia Island, Fla., final, she lost on clay to Gabriela Sabatini. At the French Open, it happened again, when a 17-year-old Spaniard named Arantxa Sanchez Vicario beat her in the final. Graf would have equaled Navratilova's record if she had held serve at 5-3 in third set.
On the men's side, the standard is John McEnroe's 1984 season, when he went 82-3.
Thanks to Djokovic's 43-0 start to the season, new light was shed on McEnroe's fabulous 42-0 start to 1984. McEnroe, who skipped the Australian Open that year, was up two sets and a break on Ivan Lendl but lost the French Open final for his first defeat of the season. The second loss was to Henrik Sundstrom in the Davis Cup final against Sweden. The third loss, to Vijay Amritraj, came in Cincinnati.
The next-best men's season belongs to Federer, who went 81-4 in 2005. After losing to Marat Safin in the semifinals of the Australian Open, Federer won 25 straight matches before falling to Richard Gasquet in the quarterfinals at Monte Carlo. Then, after his third match loss of the year -- to Nadal in the final at Roland Garros -- Federer ripped off 35 straight wins. That streak came to an end when longtime nemesis David Nalbandian beat him in the year-end final at Shanghai.
Still, that's only four losses -- in an 11-month season. Going forward, that seems like a worthy (and reachable?) goal for Djokovic.
5 Questions With
… with Peachy Kellmeyer
Most in the throng assembled recently in Newport, R.I., were familiar with the résumé of International Tennis Hall of Fame enshrinee Andre Agassi. But when they heard about the body of work belonging to Fern Lee "Peachy" Kellmeyer, well, there were more than a few surprised patrons.
Their subsequent applause was warm -- and well deserved. Kellmeyer, 67, has been an executive at the WTA for nearly four decades, but 45 years ago, she had a hand in changing the landscape for women in sport. As the physical education director at Marymount College in Boca Raton, Fla., she was behind a lawsuit that ultimately led to the end of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) rule that prohibited women from receiving athletic scholarships.
This was one of the catalysts that led to the myth-shattering, landscape-changing Title IX. Kellmeyer, more than anyone, is why the WTA was successful in gaining equal prize money for women in tennis's Grand Slams. Kellmeyer, inducted as a contributor to the game, spent some time on the phone with ESPN.com from the WTA headquarters in St. Petersburg, Fla.
ESPN.com: It was a glorious day in Newport. Looking back, what was it like for you?
Peachy Kellmeyer: I got up there a couple of days early, which was one of the smartest things I ever did. I've been there for many inductions, but I knew this one was different. I knew [Agassi's wife] Steffi [Graf] quite well, but had never met Andre. Before our press conference that morning, I met him in one of the back rooms. I had been a nervous wreck, but he made me feel so relaxed. When I got up to speak, it carried over and I was pretty composed. I can tell you I was not the last few weeks. I must have rewritten my speech 60 times.
ESPN.com: Which of your accomplishments are you proudest of?
PK: I think the one that stands out to me is Title IX. It became more apparent that weekend when I was walking around the grounds. So many different women -- and men -- told me it changed their daughters' lives, allowed them to have scholarships. The fact that I had something to do with all that, playing a part in making scholarships happen sooner, rather than later, that's something I'm really proud of.
ESPN.com: Who was most responsible for making the International Tennis Hall of Fame and its voters aware of your credentials?
PK: (WTA CEO) Stacey Allaster. I also have to give credit to (former CEO) Larry Scott, who nominated me a couple of years ago. The idea behind it was that in 30 years, no woman had been voted in as a contributor. Stacey believed in me when I didn't believe in myself. She and some of my colleagues contacted the voters, saying, "If you didn't know who she is, here is a bio." She was the one who kept me in the ballgame and took the ball and ran with it. To get in the same year as Andre, the first year I was eligible, was just overwhelming.
ESPN.com: You were a terrific college player -- the first woman to play on a men's Division 1 university tennis team. What was it about the sport that captivated you?
PK: Tennis has always been a passion of mine. Tennis is one of the only sports I know where you walk off either a winner or a loser. It's a little bit like life; sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't. For me, tennis is a reflection of life. If you really want to know somebody, go out and play a set of tennis. And you'll come away with everything you need to know.
ESPN.com: How do you see the future of women's tennis?
PK: The players today hit the ball so hard. The depth of women's tennis in the last five six years is the most outstanding thing I've seen. Chrissie [Evert] and Martina [Navratilova] used to win love-love in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Now, you don't know if the top seeds are even going to even win in the first round. We're seeing more variety in the game, too. Serve-and-volleys, drop shots, lobs, too. The game is getting more internationalized, and I think it's getting better and better.
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
On The Move
Juan Carlos Ferrero: The 2003 French Open champion is back. Nine months after surgery for left knee and right wrist injuries, he won the title at Stuttgart, Germany, last week. Ferrero, 31, beat No. 17-ranked Mikhail Youzhny along the way and became the sixth Spaniard to win on the ATP World Tour this year. In addition to the title, Ferrero won a white Mercedes-Benz SLK350 roadster, which he gave to his father, Eduardo. Ferrero climbed 21 spots to No. 64 in the ATP rankings -- 63 notches below his No. 1 ranking in fall 2003.
Polona Hercog: The 20-year-old Slovenian won her first WTA singles title at Bastad, Sweden, and reached the final at Palermo, Italy, pushing her ranking up 17 spots, to No. 36.
Pablo Andujar: A finalist in Stuttgart, the 25-year-old Spaniard moved up 11 spots to No. 44.
Patricia Mayr-Achleitner: The 24-year-old Austrian reached her first WTA final at Bad Gastein in her home country and dropped the first double bagel in a semifinal match since 2005 (on Ksenia Pervak). Up to No. 76, plus 47 spots.
Alisa Kleybanova, a former top-20 player, is receiving treatment in Italy for Hodgkin's lymphoma. The 22-year-old Russian is described by the WTA as "very strong and optimistic" about her recovery.
Courtesy of the WTA's Kevin Fischer: The last time we saw Serena Williams playing a tour event on U.S. soil? It was the 2009 U.S. Open when she had that nasty meltdown against the line judge in her semifinal match against Kim Clijsters. She's scheduled to be in action this week at Stanford. It will be her first post-Wimbledon opportunity to whittle down her current ranking of No. 172.
Richard Berankis returned to action last week in Atlanta after missing nearly four months with a right pelvic stress fracture. The 21-year-old Lithuanian last played in Miami and had reached the third round of the Australian Open. Berankis, after pushing Nicolas Mahut to a first-set tiebreaker, lost in straights in the first round.
Get ready for the Olympus U.S. Open Series. Nearly 200 hours of live tennis will be available over the two-month period on ESPN2, Tennis Channel and CBS Sports. Last year, the series reached 48 million viewers.
Look for Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf in a new USTA commercial titled "Story Time." The 30-second spot extols the virtues of the 10-and-under program featuring smaller courts, rackets, slower-bouncing balls and simplified scoring.
America's Christina McHale, 19, is the youngest player in the WTA's top 100. She's ranked No. 67.
Anabel Medina Garrigues, the Palermo champion, is the fourth active player to win a WTA event five times, following Clijsters (Luxembourg), Venus Williams (Wimbledon) and Serena Williams (Australian Open and Miami).
Congratulations to the Bill Talbert Junior Sportsmanship award winners at the International Tennis Hall of Fame: Ashok Narayana of Houston; Molly O'Koniewski of Hilton Head, S.C.; Jamie Pawid of Castro Valley, Calif.; and Samuel Shropshire of Philadelphia.
The U.S. Open wild-card playoff will run Aug. 18-20 in College Park, Md. Denis Kudla -- a finalist in last year's boys' singles at the U.S. Open -- will be among 16 players (eight men and eight women) competing for a spot in the draw.