The Novak Djokovic bandwagon is showing no signs of slowing down. The world No 1 won his 18th match in a row here last night, beating Tomas Berdych 7-5 6-3 to claim his fourth title in the past five years at the Dubai Duty Free Championships and extend the ever-widening gap between himself and his rivals at the top of the world rankings.
Djokovic, who did not drop a set all week and played better with every match, has been on fire ever since losing to Andy Murray in last year's US Open final. He has won five of the six tournaments he has played since New York, his only defeat coming at the Paris Masters in October, when his mind was clearly elsewhere, his father having been taken seriously ill.
The 36th title of Djokovic's career is set to take the 25-year-old Serb some 3,700 points clear of Roger Federer, the world No 2, in tomorrow's updated rankings. It is hard to envisage any scenario, other than a serious injury, in which he will not be world No 1 by the time the French Open and Wimbledon come around.
Djokovic is at his best on outdoor hard courts and loves the quick conditions here. He has now won 23 of his past 24 matches in Dubai, his only defeat in that run having been against Murray in last year's semi-finals. With two Masters Series tournaments coming up on hard courts, in Indian Wells and Miami, later this month before the start of the clay-court season, Djokovic's rivals could soon be watching him head even further over the horizon.
Of all the Serb's many qualities, ranging from his extraordinary athleticism to his stunning returns of serve, his consistency is arguably his greatest, as he showed when he won his first 41 matches of the year in 2011. Since losing to Murray at Flushing Meadows, he has won 13 matches in succession against top-10 opponents.
Djokovic had come out on top in 12 of his previous 13 meetings with Berdych, though the 27-year-old Czech has been in excellent form of late. He reached the final in Marseilles seven days ago and beat Federer in Friday's semi-finals here, after saving three match-points.
Few players hit the ball as hard as Berdych, but Djokovic avoided getting into too many slugging matches with the world No 6 by pulling him around the court and forcing him into mistakes by taking pace off the ball.
Berdych made the first break of serve in the fifth game with a superb running forehand cross-court pass, but Djokovic levelled at 4-4 when the Czech netted an easy volley. At 5-6 Berdych followed three unforced errors with a double fault to hand Djokovic the set.
A horrible missed smash by Berdych when serving at 3-4 gave Djokovic the only break he needed in the second set and he closed out his victory after an hour and 34 minutes when Berdych put a backhand into the net.
"It's been a great week for me," Djokovic said afterwards, while Berdych's verdict was simple: "Novak was just too good."