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Novak Djokovic: "I want to be the best"

  • Dan Imhoff

His two eminent rivals often made a point of diplomatically ducking and diving when pressed on their pursuit of greatness.

Novak Djokovic, however, cuts straight to the chase.

At 36, the Serbian’s motivation has only grown; he is eager to keep a hungry pack of pretenders and the last of those two great rivals, Rafael Nadal, at bay this fortnight at Melbourne Park.

DRAW: Australian Open 2023 men's singles

DRAW: Australian Open 2023 women's singles

Two years ago at the All England Club, the Serbian drew level with Nadal and his other high-achieving adversary, Roger Federer, for the first time on 20 major titles.

In his 18th Australian Open campaign, a 10th triumph on the final Sunday night would again reel in top seed Nadal with No.22.

“That's why I keep on playing professional tennis, competition tennis, because I want to be the best, I want to win the biggest tournaments in the world,” Djokovic said.

“There is no secret about it. It doesn't get bigger than this. You have four Slams that historically have been the biggest events in our sport.

READ: Players coming in hot to AO 2023

“It's also one of the biggest reasons why I was really looking forward to come back to Australia: because of my record here.

“I really love playing in Rod Laver Arena, particularly night sessions. I've had plenty of success that hopefully can continue this year.”

Off court, Djokovic spent an idyllic two weeks preparing in Adelaide, hiking the surrounding hills, swimming at Henley Beach and staying in a “really wonderful place in nature”.

It was a chance, he said, to recharge the batteries in order to bring his best on court.

While reconnecting with nature was not the overriding objective of his time there it worked a treat as he left the city with his 92nd career title after beating Denis Shapovalov, Daniil Medvedev and Sebastian Korda – from championship point down – in succession.

“I'm in very good shape. I ended the year in the best possible way and continued that form in Adelaide,” he said.

“I like the way I played there. I beat some really good players, especially in the last few matches of the tournament.”

There was one notable concern – a tweaked hamstring from the win over his 2021 US Open conqueror Medvedev.

While it has impeded his training to some extent in the past week, Djokovic remains optimistic it will continue to improve ahead of his first-round clash with Roberto Carballes Baena.

“It's hopefully not [of] major concern,” he said. “So far I've been able to train, compete and play points, practise sets. So that's a positive sign.

“Obviously, I'm being a bit more cautious. I'm not going full out on the training sessions, conserving the energy for next week. Hopefully it won't cause an issue for me then.”

Fifteen years since he first triumphed at Melbourne Park, Djokovic returns as the fourth seed, the first time he has not occupied one of the top two seedings in these parts since 2018.

That year was incidentally the last time he lost a match on Australian soil, to South Korean Hyeon Chung in the fourth round.

“I like my chances. I always like my chances,” he said. “I train as hard as really anybody out there.

“There's a lot of youngsters now that are very hungry, that want to win. They want to take a scalp off you on the big stadium. I know that.

“Experience of being in these kind of particular circumstances helps I think to have the right approach and do things in a proper way because I know when I'm healthy and playing my best, on this court I have chances really against anybody.”