Djokovic's playground at the moment
KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- Mardy Fish is playing the best tennis of his life, but Friday, in the simmering cauldron that is the Sony Ericsson Open, it wasn't nearly good enough.
Not only is Novak Djokovic playing his best tennis, but he's playing better than anyone on planet, making him the de facto No. 1 of, oh, about 6.9 billion people.
Here is how and why:
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With Fish serving at 2-3 in their semifinal match, the 23-year-old Serb earned his third break point of the game. The two combatants launched into a fine rally, some real quality tennis. But it ended on the 27th stroke because Fish simply couldn't sustain the level. He hit a weary forehand into the net and, despite the swelling applause from the pro-Fish crowd, he was a broken man.
A brief glimpse of pulling the match back on serve similarly evaporated with Djokovic serving for the first set at 5-3. Another long rally, another Fish forehand into the net. Another brisk day at the office for Djokovic, who prevailed 6-3, 6-1 in a match that was delayed 54 minutes by a thoroughly impressive monsoon that helped Djokovic regain his composure.
"It was extremely disappointing," a frustrated Fish said. "I mean, to be honest, I thought I played well. You look up, I'm down 6 3, 5-1, you look at the total points won and he's only won like eight more points and I'm down 6-3, 5-1. That kind of tells you that I didn't win any of the big points.
"None of them."
At one juncture, Fish crushed two perfect inside-out forehands to Djokovic's backhand -- and both of them came back.
"Yeah," Fish said, "hit those on the outside part of the line. Yeah, he's moving better than anyone right now, no doubt about it, on a hard court.
"It's his playground right now, I guess."
We shall soon see, but the recent track record supports Fish's theory.
On Sunday, Djokovic will meet the winner of Friday night's second semifinal, the mega-match between No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal and No. 3-ranked Roger Federer -- players he has beaten a combined four times already this season. Who would he prefer?
"It's a question that I can't give you an answer on, because I really don't prefer anybody of those two," Djokovic said. "Whoever I play, I obviously wouldn't feel like a favorite on the court."
Djokovic, the newly minted No. 2-ranked player, is now through to his fourth final in four tries. He has won 25 straight matches going back to last year's Davis Cup final and is 23-0 this year -- the best ATP World Tour start since Ivan Lendl cranked out 25 wins at the beginning of 1986.
Fish scored impressive wins over Juan Martin del Petro and David Ferrer on his way to the Final Four, but he was powerless against Djokovic, to whom he has now lost all six of their career matches.
"He's not losing games -- he's crushing us," Fish said of the ATP World Tour's finest. "He doesn't give you much out there at all. When he does, he seems to erase it pretty well.
"The matches are so long you're bound to lose focus here and there. Sometimes, for guys, it's games. For him, it's maybe a point or two at the most right now. He zones in pretty well. It's a confidence thing for sure."
Indeed, Djokovic is in a classic zone; he is seeing the ball big -- and it's coming in slooow. Please, though, don't ask him about his increasingly impressive win streak.
"Of course, to be a part of history it's always a big pleasure and honor. I've been telling to my team, 'Don't come up [to me] with any records or anything.'
"I don't really think about how long this winning streak is going to go for, who I'm going to lose to. I'm just thinking about my next opponent and what I need to do to win."
And that is precisely why no matter who emerged from the Rafa-Roger encounter, they both know that Djokovic is the true favorite.
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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