Novak Djokovic is on the cusp of adding convincing proof to the growing argument that he ranks second to no man, now or ever, as a tennis player. With his win at the ATP Masters 1000 at Indian Wells, he equaled Rafael Nadal’s leading haul of 27 Masters titles.

Djokovic will now be working on a three-peat that he’s already accomplished three times at the Miami Open, which started Wednesday. You probably have just enough time to run out to restock on refreshments before this guy becomes the all-time Masters event champion, at age 28.

Nadal never got enough credit for being master of Masters, and Djokovic is unlikely to break that pattern. In a way it’s their own fault. As they and other Grand Slam champs of either gender keep telling us, they play for the Grand Slam titles.

Yet here was Djokovic on Sunday, effusively praising the tournament in his victory speech: “I truly believe that this tournament deserves to be a level higher … between 1000 and Grand Slam there is nothing.” It was less a complaint about the structure of the tour than praise for the overall quality of Indian Wells.

The other Masters might not be in quite the same league as Indian Wells when it comes to some amenities, but they are its equal in the most important way: the caliber of the competition. The Masters concept has become a vital part of the game’s foundation.

The quality of the competition at these elite, sub-major events is evidenced by the fact that 49 of the past 53 Masters events have been won by one of tennis’ Big Four. Over that same six-year span, 22 of the 25 Grand Slam events went to one of the elite quartet.

One of Djokovic’s great attributes is his versatility. He’s won every Masters title multiple times except for Cincinnati, where he has yet to win the title. It’s ironic, because hard court is his best surface. After he was upset by resurgent Roger Federer in last year’s Cincinnati final, Djokovic told the media, “This year I got to the finals, step closer. I’m going to keep going, keep fighting to make the history. It’s a great incentive.”

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