While Nadal reasserted his hegemony over Roland Garros with an
eighth French Open triumph last year and Roger Federer has won seven
Wimbledon crowns, Djokovic has made Melbourne Park his own grand
slam banker with four titles in the last five years.
The Serbian last tasted defeat on the banks of the Yarra River
almost four years ago and if he can extend his unbeaten run on the
blue plexicushion to 28 matches this year, would become the first
man in the professional era to take the title five times.
"The Australian Open is definitely my most successful grand slam, my
favorite grand slam. I love spending time here," Djokovic said after
being drawn to face world number 90 Lukas Lacko in the opening round
"It's the start of the season and I think most of the players are
sharing the same opinion. We love the atmosphere, the easy energy
that flows around, and of course the tennis fever."
Nadal missed the tournament in 2013 when a bout of stomach flu
capped a miserable run of injuries but made a remarkable return with
10 titles, including his 12th and 13th in grand slams, to knock the
Serb off the top of the world rankings.
So while Federer, also a four-times Australian Open champion, and
Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, a finalist in three of the last four
years, cannot be written off, Nadal looks the man most likely to
Nadal opened the new season with another title win in Qatar and few
tennis fans would be too disappointed if the two weeks of
competition at Melbourne Park, which start on Monday, climax with a
re-match of his six-hour 2012 final defeat to Djokovic.
The Spaniard certainly has the tougher draw with the talented but
inconsistent Australian Bernard Tomic up first and Juan Martin del
Potro, who beat him at the Shanghai Masters last October, his
potential opponent in the last eight.
While Nadal has never been coached by anybody other than his uncle
Toni, Djokovic has followed the trend of elite players adding former
tennis greats to their support staff by taking on six-times grand
slam champion Boris Becker.
"He is not happy with six grand slams, even though that is an
incredible record in itself," Becker said on Friday.
"He wants to win more, and he is having a good team around him that
tries to make him better."
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TOO SOON FOR MURRAY?
Briton Murray started the trend with his recruitment of Ivan
Lendl and Federer recently followed suit by persuading Stefan
Edberg to join him in Melbourne.
Federer, 32, is looking to the Swede for inspiration as he tries
to arrest last year's decline that saw the Swiss fail to reach
at least the quarter-finals at successive grand slams for the
first time since 2003.
Murray, meanwhile, is on the comeback trail after four months on
the sidelines in the wake of surgery on his lower back and the
consensus is that he might struggle with five-set matches so
early in his return.
Del Potro and Lleyton Hewitt are the only grand slam champions
apart from the "Big Four" of Djokovic, Nadal, Federer and Murray
still active but the Argentine has not produced his best form
consistently since a wrist injury that nearly ended his career
The tall Argentine, still only 25, is seeded fifth after showing
signs that he might be on the verge of being a grand slam
contender last year with four titles and runs to the finals of
the Masters tournaments at Shanghai and Indian Wells.
Third seed David Ferrer has reached the semi-finals in two of
the last three years but beat an injury-hampered Nadal to do so
in 2011 and this year's draw looks tougher than the fairly easy
ride he had in 2013.
Tomas Berdych, Stan Wawrinka and 2008 losing finalist
Jo-Wilfried Tsonga are the other players who might provide an
upset or make a run but few are looking beyond Djokovic and
Although Nadal beat Djokovic in the U.S. Open final, the Serbian
got engaged to long-term girlfriend Jelena Ristic straight
afterward and has been unbeaten since.
"Since I got engaged I haven't lost a match, so I guess the
wedding should come soon. I should give credit for that," he
said of a run which included thrashing Nadal to win the ATP
year-ending championships in London.
(Editing by John O'Brien)
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