Djokovic still the man to beat
Novak Djokovic is determined to bounce back from his French Open final disappointment when he bids to defend his Wimbledon title.
Djokovic went into the French Open with the chance to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to hold all four grand slam titles at once but, like Roger Federer, found Rafael Nadal an immovable object on the court he has made his own.
Twice Federer went into the final at Roland Garros with history at his fingertips and twice he came away beaten, but on neither occasion did he get as close as Djokovic.
Had play continued on Sunday night when Djokovic was on such a roll that he won eight straight games, he might have emerged victorious, but Nadal came out firing yesterday and in the end there was no stopping the phenomenal Spaniard.
But he knew he had been pushed hard and Djokovic came away feeling not so much that an opportunity had disappeared but that many more are still to come.
The Serb said: "These matches make you feel like all the work that you put into it is worth it. You're living for this moment to play the finals of any grand slam, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.
"I lost this time. But I believe that there are still many years to come, and hopefully I can come back stronger."
The 25-year-old remains a clear world number one and will go into Wimbledon looking to defend the title he wrested out of Nadal's hands 12 months ago.
A fourth successive title would have been one of the greatest sporting achievements of all time given the era in which Djokovic is playing, but three in a row, all won against Nadal, one of the fiercest competitors in any sport, is almost as impressive.
Djokovic was not supposed to be the main man, he was destined to be, like Andy Murray, a nearly man feeding off the scraps left by the great duopoly of Nadal and Federer.
Yes, he won the Australian Open in 2008 but that had almost been forgotten, and two years later many people were questioning whether, at 22, his best days were already behind him.
The first big indication that those predictions would prove to be entirely wrong came at the US Open in 2010, when Djokovic saved two match points in his semi-final against Roger Federer and went on to win.
He lost to Nadal in the final, the Spaniard completing his own career grand slam and in the process setting up the chance to make it four in a row in Australia, which he could not take.
But Djokovic was confident again and playing well, and the season was to reach an emotional and tennis high that December when he helped Serbia win their first Davis Cup trophy.
By the time he arrived at the French Open last year, he had turned those two victories into a winning streak that eventually reached 43 before he was defeated by Federer in the semi-finals.
Djokovic's incredible surge to the top of the tennis world has a number of factors, but that Davis Cup win is arguably the most important.
He carried the high into the 2011 season and was untouchable at the Australian Open, beating Federer and Murray back-to-back without dropping a set.
There were technical improvements. His return of serve was better than ever, the ball arriving back at his opponents' feet almost before they had hit the ground, and his speed and incredible retrieval skills were rivalling Nadal's.
Djokovic had struggled with allergies and the switch to a gluten-free diet appeared a masterstroke, but mostly it was his incredible belief that carried him on to victory after victory.
He beat Nadal in four successive finals, two of them on clay, and when they clashed again in the Wimbledon final it was Djokovic who found inspiration at the most pressurised moments while his opponent erred.
Djokovic won the US Open, too, and it was only fatigue that caused his incredible season to tail off towards the end.
He was back fit and firing in Australia, though, and somehow he won again, slugging it out with Murray and Nadal in back-to-back five-set matches for more than 10 hours to lift the trophy.
There have been defeats this season, six of them compared to one at this stage last year, but Djokovic heads to the All England Club very comfortable in the role of leading man.