iconimg Sunday, August 30, 2015

sportsdesk@hindustantimes.com, Agencies
Melbourne , January 14, 2013
Should Serbian Novak Djokovic lift in two weeks' time the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup, the men's singles trophy, not only will he remain World No.1, he will also become the first player in the Open era to win three consecutive Australian Open titles. "From my personal experience, I like playing here because it's after probably five, six, seven weeks of break with no official tournament," Djokovic was quoted as saying by Xinhua.

"So you get time to recover, regroup, recharge your batteries mentally, physically, try to get ready for the new season with four, five weeks of good practice. You come here http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/Popup/2013/1/14_01-pg19a.jpgfresh. You're motivated and inspired to play some good tennis."

His first opponent will be France's Paul-Henri Mathieu, who Djokovic will not be taking lightly. "Maybe he's lower ranked at this moment but he was a top 20 player. He knows how it feels to play on a big stage. There is no underestimating him, that's for sure. I'm going to try to focus from the start," the Serb said.

From there Djokovic's road to history gets a little bumpier: potential meetings with 15th seed Stanislas Wawrinka in the fourth round, fifth seed Tomas Berdych in the quarters and possibly David Ferrer, the fourth seed, in the semifinals, won't be easy.

One person who is guaranteed to not be there on the second Sunday is world No.4 and Australian Open 2012 finalist Rafael Nadal. With Nadal sidelined with a virus, there will be no repeat of last year's classic meeting between the two.

Fresh Federer
Two days before the start of the Slam, Roger Federer is as serenely sure of himself as ever.

The 31-year-old world No.2 hasn't yet competed in 2013. Instead of playing in Abu Dhabi, Perth, Doha, Brisbane or Sydney, Federer has been on the practice court and in the gym, something he believes will stand him in better stead in his advancing years.

"I purposely didn't play a lead-up tournament so that I'd be fresh for the beginning, hopefully going deep into the tournament. That's the goal, obviously," said Federer. "I'm ready to go and eager. That to me right now dominates. I think as long as that's the case, that means I love it very much."

Looking for sixth
Serena Williams goes into the tournament a red-hot favourite in her quest for a sixth title with even world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka admitting the American is the player to beat.

Williams gets her 13th Melbourne campaign underway Tuesday against Romania's Edina Gallovits-Hall, fresh from claiming her 47th career title in Brisbane and with a rare calendar-year Grand Slam in her sights.

But the formidable American, 31, is doing her best to play down soaring expectations before the Grand Slam season gets underway on Monday.

"That's an incredible goal," she said of the Grand Slam of winning the Australian Open, Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the US Open in the same year, a feat last achieved by Steffi Graf in 1988.

The 15-time Grand Slam winner sits behind defending champion Azarenka and Maria Sharapova in the current world rankings. She won in 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2010, and another Australian tournament victory would return her to world number one.