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Roger’s return sparks Novak’s hopes

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As superlatives flow in the aftermath of Roger Federer’s and Rafael Nadal’s 2017 resurgence, the one man to have tormented the pair more than any other is quietly relieved some of the spotlight has shifted as he mounts a comeback of his own.

Form, off-court woes and a dodgy right arm combined to curtail Novak Djokovic’s season at the halfway point last year.

But as his two great rivals went on to sweep all four slams before them, the six-time Australian Open champion made it known he wants in again.

Patience, though, is everything.

Rehabilitation on his arm, including a newly-shortened backswing on his service motion, has afforded the Serb a valuable break from the game he has dominated for much of the past seven years.

While still managing his elbow as he works his way back into competition, Djokovic is using his great rival Federer’s renaissance as inspiration, even joking he may yet play until he was 40.

“I mean, Roger and Rafa's year last year has shown age is just a number, especially in Roger's case,” Djokovic said. “He's a great example of someone that manages to take care of himself, knows how to prepare well and peak at the right time.

“He won a couple of Grand Slams. Who would predict that after his six months of absence?

“So everything is possible really. I don't know how my body's going to behave this year or any other year. Right now all I can think about, and where I can sort of direct my energy, is in the present moment. So far everything is going in the right direction.”

For what it’s worth, defending champion Federer predicted Djokovic had that rare champion’s mentality required to return to the upper echelons of the game.

“Once you’ve been world No.1 and have won the amount of slams we have, same as Novak, at some stage you believe you can always achieve greatness again as long as you keep yourself in shape and are hungry and motivated,” Federer said.

I don't know how my body's going to behave this year or any other year. Right now all I can think about, and where I can sort of direct my energy, is in the present moment.
Novak Djokovic

With Andre Agassi having boarded a flight to return to the Serb’s coaching fray in time for his first-round clash with American Donald Young, there was a further addition to his coaching ranks late last season, the recently-retired Radek Stepanek.

“I've introduced new people to my team. The service motion is something that we worked on” Djokovic said. “It was obviously the part of my game that I had to address because of the elbow issues. I've worked on it for last couple months with Radek and Andre.

“Ever since Radek decided to join the team, he was with me more or less the entire time, trying to spend as much quality time on the court as much as we can.”

Entered into his first tournament draw since last year’s Wimbledon, Djokovic starts in unfamiliar territory as the No.14 seed.

German fourth seed Alexander Zverev looms as his toughest early test should the pair reach the last 16. From there, No.5 seed Dominic Thiem, defending champion Federer and top seed Nadal present a trifecta of enormous hurdles between the Serb and a seventh crown at Melbourne Park.

“I still know what I'm capable of, and I believe in my own abilities to win against the best players in the world,” Djokovic said. “I know that if I get myself to my desired level of performance – mental and physical – that I can actually have a good chance to go far in the tournament.

“Now, whether my approach is different to this year's Australian Open to other previous years, probably yes. It's different circumstances. But it is exciting. Honestly, it's a good place to be.”

Few expectations as a double-digit seed, it’s a good place to be for a former No.1 looking to fly under the radar. Just ask defending champion Federer what it felt like 12 months ago.