Confident Djokovic the man to beat in Australian Open

Confident Djokovic the man to beat in Australian Open

MELBOURNE – Agence France-Presse
Confident Djokovic the man to beat in Australian Open

World’s top-ranked men’s tennis player Novak Djokovic will try to win the Australian Open again, but the hard-court event is the toughest Grand Slam to hold onto. AP photo

Defending champion Novak Djokovic will be bidding for his third consecutive grand slam trophy when the Australian Open champion gets his title defense under way in Melbourne.

The Serbian world number one dominated last season, winning three of the four Grand Slams and goes into the year’s opening major as the man to beat against chief rivals Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

Djokovic kicked off his sensational 2011 with victory over Murray in the Australian Open final and then added the Wimbledon and US Open crowns, beating Nadal both times in the title matches.

Only four men on five occasions have won three or more consecutive grand slams in the open era -- Rod Laver, Pete Sampras, Nadal and Federer twice.

The Australian Open, starting today, is the toughest of the four Grand Slams to hold onto with only nine successful title defenses in the open era compared with 17 at Wimbledon and 13 at Roland Garros.

“I’m always trying to take the positive side and say, ‘OK, I’ve done it once, I can do it twice’,” Djokovic said of his chances.

“I feel that I’m at the peak of my career. I feel that physically, mentally, game-wise, I’m right up there.
“I can perform equally well on any surface, as I have proven in 2011.

“That’s my focus. That’s something that I’m thinking of. Just taking it slowly, step by step.”

Last year’s Australian Open final triumph over Murray was the first of seven straight tournament wins in a 41-match winning streak that was finally ended by Federer in the semifinals of the French Open.
Djokovic, 24, won a career-best 10 titles in 11 finals last year. He defeated world number two Nadal six times and overall was 21-4 against top-10 opponents. 

But former Australian Open champion Nadal said he was over the shoulder injury that dogged him late last year and was determined to challenge for the top ranking he lost to the Serb at Wimbledon in July.
“Novak is the best because last year he had a fantastic year,” Nadal said yesterday. “He’s the number one. He deserves to be there.

“I will be fighting every moment to try to compete against everybody with positive chances of victory.” 
Ten-time grand slam champion Nadal, 25, has a checkered record at the Australian Open, winning in 2009 but failing to make the semifinals in three of the past five visits. 

Federer, who holds the all-time record for Grand Slam wins, is bidding to become only the second man along with Roy Emerson to win five or more Australian Opens. 

The Swiss great, competing in his 49th consecutive major, is the oldest of the men’s top four at 30 but his durability always makes him dangerous in the second week of a major tournament.
Federer finished last year strongly, winning three straight tournaments and is confident of carrying the momentum into 2012.

“I think it’s only helpful that I finished so strong. I had so many great finishes to the year,” Federer said. “Very often did I take this momentum into the following year. I hope it’s going to be the same again.” 

World number four Murray, 24, bidding to become Britain’s first male major winner since Fred Perry in 1936, has suffered shattering defeats to Federer and Djokovic in the past two Australian Open finals. 
He now has tennis great Ivan Lendl as his coach and had immediate success with a crushing win over Ukraine’s Alexandr Dolgopolov in the final of this month’s Brisbane International.

Australian Open 2012,