The defending champion will start as raging favorite for a sixth
title at the year's first grand slam, continuing the domination of
men's tennis that saw the Serb win 11 titles last year and three of
the four majors.
Beating the red-hot world number one is a task anywhere. Stopping
him at his Melbourne Park fortress is becoming virtually impossible.
Stan Wawrinka managed it in a classic quarter-final in 2014, the
Swiss ending Djokovic's bid for a fourth consecutive title before
going on to claim the trophy for himself.
Some suggested Wawrinka's breakthrough heralded the end of the
dominance of the 'Big Four', the annual parceling of grand slams
between Djokovic, Roger Federer, Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray.
And while Wawrinka denied Djokovic a calendar grand slam with
victory in last season's French Open final, the Serb has all but
carved up the men's game for himself.
Fatherhood has not slowed Djokovic's pursuit of silverware and at
the age of 28, the best may be yet to come.
His straight sets demolition of Nadal in this month's Qatar Open
final was praised as "perfection" by the Spaniard and Djokovic
admitted seeing the ball "as a watermelon".
2016 is just 15 days old but Djokovic is already being tipped for
the calendar slam.
"Yeah, if he wins the Australian, he wins all four," seven-time
grand slam champion Mats Wilander told ESPN. "He just missed (last)
year, and I think that will motivate him to go all the way."
FIFTH TIME LUCKY
Tellingly, his rivals talk more about Djokovic failing to reach top
form than the standard of their own performance when asked how to
get the better of the Serb.
"Maybe he has a drop-off, it's very difficult to maintain that level
for such a long period," said second-seeded Briton Murray, who was
beaten by Djokovic three times in the final including last year's
[to top of second column]
Scarred by four fruitless trips to the final, two-time grand slam
champion Murray will hope for 'fifth time lucky' if he reaches the
The Scot enjoys a kind draw, with eighth seed David Ferrer the
highest-ranked in his quarter, and at least boasts the physical
fitness to go toe-to-toe with the Serb.
Blessed with one of the game's most potent backhands, fourth seed
Wawrinka also has weapons to trouble Djokovic and should make a deep
run on the hard courts if in form.
His compatriot Federer remains an inspiration to tour veterans and
his appearances in last year's Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals were
testament to the 17-times grand slam champion's endurance.
But unlocking the secret to winning three sets against potential
semi-final opponent Djokovic on 34-year-old legs may prove beyond
even the Swiss master.
Unlucky to find himself in the same quarter of the draw as Wawrinka,
14-times grand slam Nadal looms as a dark horse, arriving in
Melbourne the fittest he has been in years and stinging from a
season without a major trophy.
Local fans will also farewell former world number one Lleyton
Hewitt, the two-time grand slam champion signing off with a record
20th appearance in the men's draw.
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)
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