Making the case for Djokovic as No. 1

Michael T. Cvitkovic presents the on-court case for unbeaten Novak Djokovic of Serbia supplanting Spanish superstar and world's No. 1 Rafael Nadal as the finest tennis player on the planet right now.

Your honour, Novak Djokovic is the best tennis player on the planet.

Three months into a perfect season, the Serbian superstar has proven he has the tools — and now the stamina — to dominate the game.

Djokovic has knocked off Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer on five occasions this year and has already won four titles, including his second Australian Open and the North American spring swing in Miami and Indian Wells – both with championship victories over Nadal, the world's No. 1.

Moreover, he is one win away from tying the great Ivan Lendl's 25-year-old record of 25 consecutive victories to start a season. But critics are reluctant to include him among the giants of the game until he wins a major on clay.

Not necessary, your honour.  

Just because the 23-year-old has yet to win the French Open doesn't mean he is still the ugly duckling. You recall, it wasn't until 2009 that Federer won the French and he needed Nadal's absence to do it. Pete Sampras never won it, and I'm sure plenty of people consider him a tennis legend.

Now, I'm not suggesting that Djokovic is in the same category as Pistol Pete or the Swiss Maestro. But I just don't think it's fair to suggest Djokovic isn't knocking on the door of greatness because he, like so many others, can't seem to solve the slow, red clay.

It's not as if Djokovic has a horrific record on the surface. He has 22 career clay-court titles, has reached the semifinals twice at Roland Garros and bowed out in the quarter-finals last year.

Djokovic's skill has been evident for years, your honour. 

He has a great serve and, arguably, the best, two-handed backhand in the game and he plays very aggressively. On the borderline of dangerous. What has eluded him is the stamina to stay in long matches and, sometimes, the mental toughness to overcome adversities on the court. Defeating Nadal last week in Miami over 3½ hours in nearly 30 C heat was enough to show Djokovic has found inner strength.

Djokovic withdrew from this week's Monte Carlo Masters with knee problems, conceding the points needed to catch Nadal in the world rankings. Djokovic reached the quarter-finals at Rome in 2010 and didn't play Madrid last year, and Nadal enjoyed a triple sweep of those events.

This year, the Spaniard must defend in order to keep some distance between him and Djokovic at the top.

Of the four top-ranked players in men's tennis — Nadal, Djokovic, Federer, Andy Murray — "The Joker" is the lone extrovert. In a sport continuing to struggle between traditionalism and attracting youth, Djokovic has been applauded at times and jeered at others.

There was the incident between him and Roddick during the U.S. Open, when the American mocked his Serbian opponent for being injured so often. Djokovic stood his ground — verbally — but he did so at Arthur Ashe Stadium and heard the boos from the American faithful. Conversely, Djokovic is often asked to perform his multitude of tennis impersonations (if you haven't seen his Sharapova or McEnroe, look them up online).

Upon winning the 2007 Rogers Cup over Federer in Montreal, Djokovic was mistakenly introduced by the public address announcer as a Croatian during the trophy ceremony. The gaffe caused a mild uproar among former Yugoslavian communities and Serbian/Croatian-Canadians.

But Djokovic brushed it aside with a easy smile and helped calm the waters by suggesting the announcer meant Serbian, not Croatian, and not to worry because it's the same thing anyway.

He's flashy and funny, with attitude at times, and is a crowd pleaser. Throw in the fact that he has his game peaking heading into the spring/summer schedule and there's no question where Djokovic belongs.

He's a unique character, the kind of character the ATP World Tour needs. The emotional Serbian is no longer a third wheel, but a man on the right path to the top of tennis.

Your honour, I rest my case.