George Orwell wrote a book called 1984 where he looked at the future, envisioned big brother.  It was a parable about what had happened during WW2.  He picked 1984 by transposing the digits, 1948.

But 1984 came and went, and one significance of that year was what a fabulous year it was for John McEnroe.

Djokovic’s streak may become overwhelming, but chance are, with the clay season ahead, someone, somewhere, will knock him off his perch.  No man or woman has, in modern times, gone undefeated in tournament play.  The closest was Martina Navratilova, in 1983, who lost one match all year.  Unfortunately, it was in the French Open which robbed her of a chance to win the Grand Slam in a calendar year.  She went 86-1 winning 3 of 4 Slams.

John McEnroe lost only 3 times in 1984.  Two of the losses weren’t so surprising.  One loss was to Ivan Lendl in the finals of the French Open in Mac’s best chance to win the Slam that got away (although he never won the Australian either, as he skipped it in his early years as did many other pros).  He dominated the first two sets, but his serve went wayward, and Lendl just clawed his way back–and just in time.  He was down a break in the third set and had to work hard just to win that set.  It would be Lendl’s first Slam after losing in the previous four Slam finals he had been in (1981 French Open to Borg, 1982 and 1983 US Open to Connors, and 1983 Australian Open to Mats Wilander).

He lost to Henrik Sundstrom in the Davis Cup final held in Sweden.  McEnroe and Connors teamed up to try to wrestle the Cup back to the US.  Connors rarely played Davis Cup.  He and the USTA famously didn’t get along.  The Swedes felt their best chance was to play on clay, but at the time, it was not possible to play outdoors in the chilly Swedish weather, so an indoor clay court was constructed.  Sundstrom provided a key win that ultimately lead Sweden to a Davis Cup crown.

The other loss is perhaps the most baffling.  What used to be called the ATP Championships and is now the Western and Southern Masters held in Cincinnati was the site of an early round loss by John McEnroe to, of all people, Vijay Amritraj.  The elegant Indian had always been dangerous, but never reached the top ten.  In those days, full training and fitness were not part of the training of most players.  Amritraj’s best years were in the 1970s, but somehow he won, and then proceeded to lose to fellow Indian, Ramesh Krishnan in the next round.

And those were the three losses.  McEnroe won 13 tournaments and the year-end championship.  He managed to avoid the clay, playing only two tournaments.  I suppose, in those days, there weren’t Masters series events required of all top pros, so Mac didn’t have to go play three clay events leading up to the French.  He also skipped Australia that year.

So when people marvel at Djokovic’s streak, realize that Mac had a streak of his own too.  And the record for consecutive matches goes to Vilas who won 50 in a row.  The streak might have gone longer had his opponent, the irascible, Ilie Nastase not picked up a spaghetti strung racquet, whcih was not yet banned then, and used its crazy spin to drive Vilas crazy and causing him to leave the match because it was a farce.

Djokovic is at 24.  50 seems almost ridiculous because it would run right through the French Open and mean taking a bunch of clay titles that have had Rafa’s name on them for a while.  But at least it’s in the conversation.