PARIS (AP) — Shhhhhh! Don’t say a word. Novak Djokovic is perfect so far in 2011, and superstition demands silence, lest he be jinxed.
Djokovic himself insists he isn’t keeping tabs on his unbeaten run, which reached 38-0 this season — and 40 consecutive victories dating to December — thanks to a 6-2, 6-1, 6-3 win over Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands in the first round of the French Open on Monday.
"I’m not counting," the second-seeded Djokovic said with a smile.
"I’m not trying to think about the streak that I have," he added, "even though it’s definitely something that makes me proud."
Others certainly are thinking about it. Indeed, it’s the talk of the year’s second Grand Slam tournament. Straight-set victories Monday at Roland Garros by other top players such as Roger Federer, top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki or defending champion Francesca Schiavone — and even 2010 semifinalist Tomas Berdych’s surprising five-set loss to a French qualifier — didn’t merit as much attention as Djokovic did.
The Serb, who won his second Australian Open title in January, is closing in on the Open era record for best start to a tennis season by a man, John McEnroe’s 42-0 in 1984. He’s also only the sixth man in the Open era to win 40 matches in a row; Guillermo Vilas set the high of 46 in 1977.
But Djokovic’s pals on tour aren’t exactly making a big deal about it at the moment.
"In the beginning — I know him very well — I’d kind of joke, ‘Hey, let someone else win.’ ... Now you almost stay away. It’s almost like a pitcher going for a no-hitter," said the highest-seeded American, No. 10 Mardy Fish, who beat Ricardo Mello of Brazil 6-2, 6-7 (11), 6-2, 6-4.
"I don’t want to say anything about it," Fish explained. "I don’t want to be the guy that says, ‘Hey, by the way, you’re 38-0,’ or whatever he is. ‘Don’t lose.’ I don’t want to be that guy, and then have him lose."
Back on April 1, Djokovic moved to 23-0 this season by beating Fish in the semifinals in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Djokovic then defeated No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal in the final there, part of a 7-0 mark against him and Federer in 2011. Victories over Nadal — who begins his bid for a record-tying sixth title at Roland Garros on Tuesday — on clay at Madrid and Rome this month have many believing Djokovic could become the first man to win the Australian Open and French Open in the same year since Jim Courier in 1992.
Djokovic called it an "amazing streak," and acknowledged, of course, that he never could have expected to be unbeaten in late May.
"I’m really trying to have the right mental approach to every match that I play, try to think about only winning, about (my) next opponent," Djokovic said. "This is what keeps me on the ground and keeps me very focused."
He says his success is due to a combination of factors, including a gluten-free diet, which he has declined to discuss in any detail in Paris — "I can’t talk about it," Djokovic explained Monday, "because it’s private" — but credits with helping him overcome previous problems with allergies and playing in extreme heat.
In the second round, he’ll meet 60th-ranked Victor Hanescu of Romania. Win that, and Djokovic could take on 25th-seeded Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina. The 2009 U.S. Open champion hasn’t been the same player since right wrist surgery last year but got past 6-foot-10 Ivo Karlovic of Croatia 6-7 (7), 6-3, 7-5, 6-4, then declared: "I’m not thinking about Djokovic yet."
Way down the line, Djokovic’s semifinal opponent could be Federer, who completed his career Grand Slam by winning the 2009 French Open, part of his 16 major titles overall.
"Roger can beat anybody if he plays good," was the assessment offered by Feliciano Lopez, the Spaniard who never managed to earn a single break point Monday and lost to Federer 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (3).
The last time Federer was in tournament action, at Rome on May 12, he was losing in the third round.
The last time he faced Lopez, at Madrid a week earlier, Federer was forced to save a match point before pulling out a 7-6 (13), 6-7 (1), 7-6 (7) struggle.
But Monday’s Federer looked more like the Federer people are used to seeing, even if he’s "only" reached two semifinals and two quarterfinals at the past four major tournaments. The man who upset him at Wimbledon en route to last year’s final, the sixth-seeded Berdych, made a quick exit, blowing a two-set-to-none lead, then later wasting a match point, in a 3-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, 9-7 loss to 140th-ranked Stephane Robert.
Two other seeded men lost: No. 22 Michael Llodra of France, and No. 26 Milos Raonic of Canada.
Llodra left on an ugly note, likening the atmosphere at his court to an Arab marketplace after receiving a warning from Moroccan chair umpire Mohamed El Jennati for throwing a ball at a female security guard in the stands.
TV footage showed Llodra telling El Jennati: "We are not in a souk. We are not selling carpets in a market."
Tournament organizers told The Associated Press that El Jennati was not available for comment because he is not allowed to speak to the media during the two-week tournament.