With 17 Grand Slam titles, a record 36 ATP Masters 1000 crowns and six year-end World No. 1 finishes in the FedEx ATP Rankings, Novak Djokovic’s career has been defined by consistent success throughout each year he has played on the ATP Tour.
The World No. 1 has been a dominant force in men’s tennis for the past decade, and there is one location where he has regularly reached his peak level: the Australian Open. Since his tournament debut in 2005, when he lost to eventual champion Marat Safin, Djokovic has earned 75 wins at the opening Grand Slam event of the year (75-8).
The Serbian will attempt to add to that statistic on Monday night, when he begins his bid for a record-extending ninth title. Djokovic aims to follow in the footsteps of rival and 13-time Roland Garros champion Rafael Nadal, by becoming only the second man in history to win a single Grand Slam event on nine or more occasions.
“It’s a love affair… Maybe not like Rafa has at Roland Garros, but I’ve been feeling more comfortable on the court each year that I’ve been coming back,” said Djokovic. “The more you win, obviously the more confidence you have and the more pleasant you feel on the court… When I stepped on the court this year for the first time in the practice session, I relived some of the memories from last year, also the other years that I won the tournament here.
“It just gives me a great sensation, a great feeling, confidence. It feels right. It feels like the place where I should be and where I have historically always been able to perform my best tennis. Hopefully [this] can be another successful year.”
Novak Djokovic is chasing his third straight title at Melbourne Park this year.
Despite his past success, Djokovic admitted that he still has to regularly overcome his nerves as he fights for the biggest titles in the sport. With history on the line this year in Melbourne, it is a battle he is prepared to face again over the next fortnight.
“In every single tournament [I feel nerves], regardless of my previous success,” said Djokovic. “I do feel that I have more confidence, more experience, maybe more training in understanding how to deal with these specific situations when I’m coming onto the big courts, being expected to win 99 per cent of the matches that I play.
“But it’s still there. It’s still there. I don’t think it’s ever going to go away, especially when the occasion is big, when you’re playing for the biggest trophies.”
Those nerves may be lowered by this year’s unique tournament build-up. When he steps onto Rod Laver Arena for his first-round match at the Australian Open, he will not be playing his first match in almost a year on that court. This year, due to the relocation of the ATP Cup, Djokovic will be making his first appearance on Rod Laver Arena in three days.
During the ATP Cup, Djokovic contested two ties on the court where he has lifted the most trophies in his career. Djokovic claimed two singles wins and earned one win from two doubles matches, as Serbia finished second in Group A.
“Playing the ATP Cup and having four matches, two singles, two doubles, on Rod Laver Arena helps to prepare well for Australian Open,” said Djokovic. “I’ve never experienced that kind of lead-up to Australian Open before. So that’s a positive, having already [had] quite a lot of match time on the court where I’ll start my Australian Open [campaign] tomorrow night.”
Djokovic will attempt to win his first-round match at the Australian Open for the 15th consecutive year when he faces Jeremy Chardy on Day 1. Djokovic owns an unbeaten 13-0 ATP Head2Head record against the Frenchman, which includes a 7-5, 6-1, 6-3 victory when the pair met for the first time in the second round in 2009.
“I have a very good score against Jeremy,” said Djokovic. “I think that helps… He’s a very experienced player. He’s been on the tour for a lot of years. He has a big serve and big forehand. His game kind of revolves around those two shots.”
One of the keys to Djokovic’s Australian Open success has been his ability to adapt to the various court speeds at Melbourne Park. After conversations with fellow players this year, Djokovic believes that the court is much quicker than it was when he claimed back-to-back titles at the event in 2015 and 2016.
“A lot of players have actually been noticing that and commenting on the speed of the court this year. It’s really, really very quick. Compared to five [or] six years ago, it’s a lot quicker than it used to be.
“It obviously favours big servers. You have to adapt your game… In these kinds of conditions, you really need to have a complete game in order to go all the way. I’ve managed somehow to always adapt very well to Rod Laver Arena. Whatever the speed or conditions, somehow that court has always been my favourite court.”
Djokovic stands just seven matches away from the trophy. If he can adapt well to this year’s fast conditions, he will put himself in a great position to continue his Australian Open love affair and place his name in the history books once more.