No time for Novak Djokovic to dwell on rare setback

When you're as good as Novak Djokovic, it must become difficult to keep track of the growing body of statistics. One of his more impressive feats came to an end Thursday in Dubai, where the world No. 1 fell to Feliciano Lopez without ever facing match point.

Thus, Djokovic's streak of 17 consecutive ATP Tour finals, one short of matching Ivan Lendl's Open era record, ended because an allergy and eye infection forced him to withdraw after he lost the first set.

Notably, Djokovic said nothing about his streak ending. When one potential record gets taken off the table, another is sure to replace it before you can say "hyperbaric chamber."

"I'm really sad to end the tournament this way," Djokovic told the press afterward. "It's the first time I've had such a problem."

The finals streak is gone, but this week Djokovic also became just the 12th man to record at least 700 ATP Tour match wins in the Open era -- which is not a bad consolation prize.

Djokovic needs just one more Masters 1000 title to match Rafael Nadal, the all-time leader with 27. He needs one more Australian Open title to become the first man to win the singles Down Under seven times. One more ATP World Tour Finals title to become the event's first six-time winner. A French Open title in June to complete a career Grand Slam as well as a "Novak Slam." (If he wins at Roland Garros, he'll hold all four major singles titles.)

That's all in the future, though. For now, let's just look at some of his accomplishments over the course of his streak that just ended:

Djokovic was 13-4 in those finals, his most painful loss undoubtedly the four-set French Open failure against Stan Wawrinka last year.

Only one of Djokovic's losses during his run was at an ATP 500 or 250. Roger Federer surprised him in last season's Dubai Championships 6-3, 7-5.

While that upset helped establish Federer as Djokovic's most dangerous rival for the last year, Federer's proficiency would not prove adequate in best-of-five Grand Slam meetings. Djokovic would go on to master Federer at Wimbledon and the US Open, and he handled the Swiss with ease in the World Tour Finals as well.

Djokovic lost only 13 sets in those 17 finals, and he was obliged to play only eight tiebreakers, in which he went 4-4. Five of the finals in the streak were at Grand Slam events. Djokovic won every one but for the French Open loss to Wawrinka. Djokovic was 14-6 in sets over the course of those five finals. He hasn't been forced to five sets in a final since Wimbledon of 2014, where he defeated Federer in a classic.

Only three players outside the Big Four (Djokovic, Federer, Andy Murray and Nadal) made it to a final opposite Djokovic during the streak (Wawrinka, Tomas Berdych and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga). Berdych won a set in their final at the Monte Carlo Masters, but Tsonga was soundly beaten in straight sets in the Shanghai Masters final 6-2, 6-4.

The worst beatings inflicted by Djokovic during the streak were both against Nadal. Djokovic crushed the Spaniard 6-1, 6-2 in January's Qatar Open. He also surrendered a paltry four games to Nadal in last season's Beijing final.

At the moment, those statistics don't mean much to Djokovic, who was clearly disturbed by the unexpected eye condition.

"My match record is the least of my thoughts at this moment," Djokovic said. "I just hope that this problem will fade away in the next few days."

Eye problems have rarely, if ever, been the source of retirements or walkovers. Players take the utility and reliability of healthy eyes for granted, which is all the more reason for Djokovic to feel concerned about this surprise development. The injury came suddenly at a time when Djokovic appears to be in the best shape of his life -- physically, mentally and emotionally.

This was an unexpectedly cruel blow. The timing is awkward, with a World Group first-round Davis Cup tie that Djokovic is committed to play against Kazakhstan approaching in the first week in March, followed by the two big U.S. hard-court Masters events. Djokovic has a solid week to take care of his eye problem before he needs to think about Davis Cup. He's lucky in that the tie will be played in Belgrade, Serbia.

Just the other day in Dubai, Djokovic revealed that he's dedicated to making the most of his current comprehensive superiority.

"I try not to be overconfident, but being at the peak of my career at the moment, I'm trying to use this momentum that I have, take everything out of myself, and achieve more."

Djokovic's ambitions suffered a temporary setback in Dubai, but he still hasn't been beaten fair and square by an ATP rival since Federer tagged him in a round-robin match at the ATP World Tour Finals last November.

The streak is dead; long live the streak.