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Djokovic proudest of putting lone loss behind him

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND (AP) - Novak Djokovic is on the path to greatness, and one way to fully grasp that is to focus not on his many successes but instead on a setback.

Indeed, for all of his accomplishments already in 2011 _ rising to the No. 1 ranking Monday; two Grand Slam titles, including a victory over Rafael Nadal in the Wimbledon final Sunday; $7.5 million in prize money; a 48-1 record _ what Djokovic himself relishes the most is how he set aside his lone loss.

He was unbeaten in 43 matches, dating to the Davis Cup final in December, until that run ended against 16-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer in four sets in last month's French Open semifinals.

Djokovic could have been devastated. He could have gone into a tailspin. But after taking a brief break, he returned to the tour at Wimbledon and started a new winning streak.

"I'm proud of many things, to be honest, in this moment, but something that comes up to my mind is after having an incredible run, an incredible year up to Roland Garros, and then losing that really epic semifinal against Federer _ a great match _ I managed to recover and to come back in a great style and to win Wimbledon for the first time in my life," Djokovic said Monday morning at the All England Club during a 10-minute interview with two reporters.

"I think that's something that I maybe wasn't managing to do in the past," he added, "and right now, I am able to mentally switch off and just recover quickly and look to the next challenge."

The key, Djokovic explained, was that he didn't allow himself to get too low after losing to Federer.

That was a problem for Djokovic in the past, such as when he went through what he called "a crisis" during the first half of 2010. He lost in the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and French Open _ both times frittering away substantial leads _ and in one stretch played in five consecutive tournaments without ever winning more than three matches in a row.

He dwelled on those defeats.

"But now I just didn't allow myself to get to that position anymore, because it's just not worth it. It's sport. You win; you lose," Djokovic said Monday. "And I have played good (against Federer). I didn't have anything to regret, because the (other) player was better that day. So I just needed to sleep, get some rest and come here and perform my best. And I have done that."

Among the things on the 24-year-old Serb's career "To Do" list now are adding championships at the two major tournaments he hasn't won _ the French Open and the U.S. Open, where he was the runner-up to Federer in 2007, and to Nadal last year _ and a prolonged stay at No. 1.

"This is what I'm made for: I want to win. I'm a professional. I want to win more majors, more titles," he said. "Obviously, the U.S. Open is the next big thing."

As well as he's playing currently, Djokovic still sees room to work on his game, particularly his serve and getting to the net more frequently. He pointed to Nadal _ the man he replaced atop the ATP rankings _ as someone who's set an example by constantly figuring out ways to get better.

As it is, the stroke that Djokovic has improved the most this season is his serve. In Sunday's 6-4, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3 victory over Nadal, for example, Djokovic didn't face a single break point in either of the first two sets.

But the area in which Djokovic has made the most strides over the past year is his self-belief, something he and those around him say received a big boost when he helped Serbia beat France for the 2010 Davis Cup title.

"He realized lots of things," Djokovic's mother, Dijana, said Sunday about those matches in Belgrade. "You know, he matured, and then he start to play as he play now."

France led the best-of-five series 2-1 when Djokovic faced top-10 player Gael Monfils on the final day. If Monfils had won that match, France would have clinched the trophy. But Djokovic won in straight sets, and Serbia went on to win its first Davis Cup.

"I proved to myself that I can really play like this, you know, on the big stage, under big pressure, in big events, the same way," Djokovic said.

And that's exactly what he's managed to do, over and over and over.

"I do experience that very high confidence level that I have. And I do experience that I'm mentally stronger than ever," Djokovic said. "So probably that gives me a slight advantage over my opponents."

Even the best opponents.

After entering 2011 with a 39-50 record against top-10 players, Djokovic is 14-1 against them this year.

That includes a 5-0 mark against 10-time major champion Nadal, all in tournament finals, and on three different surfaces.

It also includes a 3-1 mark against Federer.

And, perhaps most impressively, a perfect turnaround after the only blemish on an otherwise perfect season.

Only 19 hours after crouching down on Centre Court to pluck and eat a few blades of grass, Djokovic said he hadn't had time to digest everything he's done.

"I'm still euphoric. I'm still on an adrenaline rush. I'm still under great joy of winning Wimbledon and of having a magnificent season so far. I have Davis Cup coming up this weekend, and then after that, I have two weeks of rest. And then, I guess, when I go down to the beach, leave my racket in the room and then just close my eyes in the sun," Djokovic said with a chuckle, "I'll probably reflect on everything that happened."

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Follow Howard Fendrich at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

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