Novak Djokovic's streak getting surreal

PARIS -- The air is getting thinner and thinner for Novak Djokovic; it's a good thing he's in such phenomenal shape.

On Wednesday he found himself in a dead heat with two of the greatest players in tennis history: Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer.

Good fortune always has a hand in extreme success, and Djokovic was spared a few miles on his tires when Victor Hanescu, dogged by an injured left thigh, retired in the third set while trailing 4-6, 1-6, 2-3. It was Djokovic's 41st consecutive victory going back to the Davis Cup final in December in Belgrade, Serbia. This represents the fourth-longest winning streak in the Open era, matching the runs of those two great champions.

Yes, this streak -- he's 39-0 in 2011 -- is starting to feel a little surreal. Postmatch news conferences can be messy, sometimes silly affairs, but this one contained a terrific question -- well, a long preamble and a terrific answer. Djokovic was asked to explain to the tennis gods, in 200 words or fewer, why he has broken out and been so successful.

"I would give them not 200," Djokovic said, laughing. "There has been a process of learning for me and getting the experience, necessary experience on the top professional level for the last three, four, five years. I have been in situations where I was winning major events, where I was beating the top players, but I wasn't consistent enough. And I knew that I had the quality, the abilities. I just need to be patient and wait for the time when everything will get together.

"This is what happened now."

Hanescu is no easy mark on clay. He reached the final last week in Nice, France, and clay is his best surface. Yet the 24-year-old Serb made him look ordinary in a match that required only 1 hour, 29 minutes.

Next up: an oddly charisma-charged third-round meeting with Juan Martin del Potro, the 2009 U.S. Open champion. The Argentine is still ailing from a hip strain suffered a month ago in Portugal.

"It's a big challenge for both of us," Djokovic said in his on-the-court interview. "He always deserved to be a top-five player in the world. He can play equally well on any surface. It's going to be interesting for us to play."

For those of you scoring at home (and we know you are), Hanescu was the second Romanian to fall in the streak, joining Adrian Ungur. For the record, Spain has been the leading contributor with 10 losses -- four of them belonging to one Rafael Nadal. Switzerland (Federer has three) and France have four victims each.

"In the last couple of months, everything got together for me from the mental perspective," Djokovic said, continuing his thoughtful answer. "In the game, I think improved maybe by small margins, by small percentage some shots in my game, especially the serve. From the mental side, obviously confidence that I have winning match after match after match helps me to keep playing the best tennis.

"That's about all," he said.

Djokovic stopped and surveyed the room packed with reporters. True to his word, his explanation -- the best one we've heard so far -- was exactly 174 words. On time and under budget. Of course it was.

"I pass?" he asked. "OK. Thank you."

And the room filled with laughter, including his own.

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.