Djokovic rattles Rafa, closing in on No. 1 ranking

Novak Djokovic from Serbia celebrates his victory during the final match against Rafael Nadal from Spain in the Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, Sunday, May 8, 2011. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Novak Djokovic from Serbia celebrates his victory during the final match against Rafael Nadal from Spain in the Madrid Open tennis tournament in Madrid, Sunday, May 8, 2011.
(AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

Novak Djokovic, the perennial No. 3 guy who spent 4 years under the big shadow of Federer and Nadal, is riding a perfect season in 2011 that could take him to the No. 1 ranking this week.

The surging Serbian grabbed his third straight win this year against No. 1 Rafael Nadal in the Spaniard's home country - and on Nadal's favorite surface clay. It was the first time in 10 tries that Djokovic had won a match on clay against the peerless Spanish clay courter - and the victory snapped Nadal's two-year winning streak on clay going back to the 2009 French Open.

Beating Nadal on clay - it's like Batman beating Aquaman in a battle underwater!

Djokovic did the deed by standing toe-to-toe with Nadal, shot for shot, rally for rally. He out-Rafa-ed Rafa, chasing down balls and smacking winners, returning balls that would have been winners, and out thinking the world No. 1.

Djokovic has now won six straight titles this year, including the Australian Open, the second grand slam of his career. He's riding a winning streak of 32 straight games this year (the streak is longer if you count his Davis Cup wins last Fall).

For years Nadal has won the battle of intimidation over the field by fighting 100 percent on every point. Now Djokovic is giving the relentless Spaniard a taste of his own medicine. A few weeks ago in Key Biscayne, Djokovic had Nadal bent over and gasping for air in the final games of Djokovic's victory there - something I've never seen.

It was more of the same Sunday in Madrid, as a stunned crowd watched their homegrown superstar struggle against a cool and collected player who was doing everything just a little better.

Before this Spring, Djokovic had lost in all five of his previous finals against Nadal - Now he has won the last three of them, all in Tier 1 classification tourneys (biggest tournaments other than slams).

Djokovic has also handled fading Federer, bumping the Swiss superstar out of the No. 2 spot earlier this Spring.

Nadal and Djokovic will compete this week in Rome, their final outing before the French Open begins in late May. The AP reports that Djokovic could wrest the No. 1 ranking from Nadal if he wins the title and defending champ Nadal fails to make the semis.

I don't think the stars will align that quickly for the erstwhile No. 3 guy making his move. But it will happen sooner rather than later. Nadal has to defend wins at both the French and Wimbledon -- and Djokovic is nipping at his heels.

Novak "The Joker" Djokovic has made me a believer. After almost a decade of the Roger-Rafa hierarchy, the ATP will be crowning a new No. 1 player this year.

And that's no joke.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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