The season is currently on hold for at least two and a half months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but before the tours announced their suspensions last week, there were two full months of play in 2020. One player in particular was putting together one of the greatest starts to a season, ever.
Novak Djokovic was a flawless 18-0 in January and February, going 6-0 during Serbia’s triumph at the inaugural ATP Cup, 7-0 en route to his 17th Grand Slam title at the Australian Open and 5-0 to win Dubai—a 500-level event, for the fifth time.
After beating Stefanos Tsitsipas in the Dubai final, the world No. 1 was asked about his goals for 2020.
“One of the targets is to go unbeaten the whole season—no, I’m kidding,” he said, laughing.
“I’m not kidding, actually,” he added, laughing again.
He elaborated on the topic in the press room.
“Of course I’m trying to embrace the moment and appreciate where I am,” the Serbian said. “I think this has been one of the best starts of all seasons I’ve had in my career. I feel great on the court. I’ve been playing great tennis on the hard courts. That is my most successful and preferred surface.
“I’ve won many matches in a row now. I’ll try to keep that run going,” he added. “It’s just way too early to speak about how long that run might go, the calculations. I try to focus on what I need to do with myself and my team in order to thrive every day, in order to try to play as best as I can every single match.”
Djokovic’s best unbeaten starts to a season (10-0 or better):
2011 — 41-0 (first loss: Roger Federer in French Open SFs)
2020 — 18-0 (streak still active)
2013 — 17-0 (first loss: Juan Martin del Potro in Indian Wells SFs)
2016 — 14-0 (first loss: Feliciano Lopez in Dubai QFs—by retirement)
2012 — 10-0 (first loss: Andy Murray in Dubai SFs)
Djokovic still has a long way to go to equal his best-ever start to a season. He made an incredible 41-0 start to 2011, winning his first seven tournaments of the year (Melbourne, Dubai, Indian Wells, Miami, Belgrade, Madrid and Rome). He then made it to the semifinals of Roland Garros before ultimately falling to Roger Federer—the Swiss in turn lost to Rafael Nadal in the final.
The 2011 season had been the best start to a season since John McEnroe won 42 matches in a row to start 1984. The loss at the French Open would turn out to be Djokovic’s only loss at a major the entire year—he went on to win both Wimbledon and the US Open, finishing 2011 with a 70-6 record.
“It was disappointing for me to lose my first match of the year in the semifinals of Roland Garros in probably the most important match of the year, but it had to come sometime,” he said a few weeks later at Wimbledon. “When the streak ended it was kind of a relief as well, because it was a very, very successful five, six months for me, but very long as well, and exhausting. I played so many matches.
“But I needed some time to relax, and to become mentally really fresh to have more success.”
As of right now, the season won’t resume until at least June 8, with the entire spring clay-court season cancelled and Roland Garros moved to September-October.
Tennis Channel Live discusses Djokovic’s 2020 hot streak: