Djokovic has a platform to the top

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic believes the capture of his second Grand Slam title can become a platform to rise to world number one for the first time.

Updated: February 22, 2011 12:18 IST
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Dubai: Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic believes the capture of his second Grand Slam title can become a platform to rise to world number one for the first time.

The world number three from Serbia restarts the ATP Tour after a three-week break on Tuesday with the defence of his Dubai Open title and a none-too-easy start against Michael Llodra, a top 30 Frenchman who won titles last year in Eastbourne and Marseille.

But Djokovic has never been more optimistic. He has learned enough from the 2008 season, which he began with a similar triumph in Melbourne but was exhausted by the halfway stage, to attempt things differently this time.

"There were health issues and then some private things, so mentally I just wasn't stable enough and it all had its toll," he admitted, reviewing what happened three years ago.

Now he has streamlined his schedule, monitored his off-court commitments and, at the age of 23, acquired the mental strength and maturity which led to the finest tennis of his life last month.

" I always knew that everything is in my head and I needed to make that switch," he said. "I was always aware that it's a process which takes time. I wanted a Grand Slam title in 2008 and was very young and careless in hitting the ball.

"I didn't feel any pressure. I didn't feel anything. But after that, in 2009 and 2010, I was introduced to the pressure and expectations and faced situations I didn't face before for a while.

"It wasn't easy to cope with all of that. It took me some time to gain the experience that I'm using in this moment."

If Djokovic continues to do that, he may well be good enough to threaten Roger Federer if they meet, as they should, in Saturday's final, and in the longer term to make a challenge for the pinnacle.

"I'm very much aware if I really want to stay at the top of the men's tennis, I cannot allow myself to have any big ups and downs," he went on.

"I have to be consistent and that's what I was in the last couple of years. That's why I was number three of the world and got to number two.

"I have been working very hard physically and of course mentally to get ready for any event, but we made the schedule in advance, to prioritise major events because that's where I want to do well this year. I cannot expend that much energy on other things."

That statement is a compliment to the drawing power of the Dubai Open, which will not only require Djokovic to start at a high standard but continue to play well through a high quality draw.

This could see him faced with a second round with Feliciano Lopez, a former finalist here, before meeting Marcos Baghdatis, the former Australian Open finalist, with a possible semi-final against Tomas Berdych, the Wimbledon finalist.

Djokovic will want to retain the title here to increase his chances of leapfrogging Federer, who is only just in front of him at world number two - but with half an eye on how it furthers the preparation for the big 1000 series events in Indian Wells and Miami next month.

Djokovic will also partner Andy Murray in the men's doubles in Miami and has been in contact with his old friend from Scotland "many, many times" since beating him in the Australian Open final.

So can he become world number one this year? "I know that I won a Grand Slam and I know that I am in exceptional form," Djokovic replied.

"It's not only winning one Grand Slam that secures you the number one spot in the world," he continued.

"Federer and Nadal obviously are the two best players in the world, and they are so consistent, and they keep on winning Grand Slams, year to year, at least one or two a year.

"So I know if I want to have a shot at that place I will have to keep on winning events."

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