Novak Djokovic goes into the 2015 Australian Open, which begins later this week, as the favourite to win his fifth title in this event and start the year in the best possible manner.
The Serbian secured his maiden Grand Slam trophy in Melbourne in 2008 and has since gone on to bring that tally up to seven, while also securing the top spot in the men’s world rankings.
ATP World Tour Finals success
At the end of the 2014 campaign, Djokovic ended the year in the best possible way by winning his third straight ATP World Tour Finals crown in London. Unfortunately the crowd at the O2 Arena did not get treated to the final they were hoping for as Roger Federer pulled out on the game with a back injury, handing the world number one the trophy without having to face the Swiss player. Although Djokovic received a handover in the final, he did look in good form throughout the week and he was fancied to beat the 16-time Grand Slam winner.
The victory in London capped off a solid season for the 27-year-old. There was just one Grand Slam to his name, which came at Wimbledon, however, he ended the year at the top of the world rankings as he was the most consistent player on the men’s tour. That is a reason why the likes of betfair.com have him around 10/11 for success in Australia.
Preparation for Australian Open
However, Djokovic’s preparation for the 2015 Australian Open has not necessarily gone to plan. He withdrew from the Mubadala World Tennis Championship final in Abu Dhabi due to illness in his return to the court following the winter break. That came after he had defeated 2014 Australian Open winner Stanislas Wawrinka in the semi-final.
The Serbian then suffered a surprise defeat to Ivo Karlovic in the Qatar Open. All three sets in that game went to a tie breaker, with the Croatian winning two of them to advance into the semi-final of the competition in Doha. Before the upset, Djokovic defeated Dusan Lajovic and Sergiy Stakhovsky in straight sets, dropping just six games in those two ties.
However, despite a lack of success in either of his pre-Australian Open tournaments, Djokovic still got a good run of games under his belt, which would have been his priority.
Conditions in Melbourne are always straining on the players as the heat really does test the fitness in the opening Grand Slam of the year. By playing in Qatar in his two warm-up events, Djokovic has become accustomed to competing in such high temperatures once again which will be similar next week over a five-set format.
Question marks about rivals
All three of Djokovic’s main rivals going into the Australian Open have question marks hanging over their heads.
Federer finished 2014 with a back injury so it is unclear what his fitness is like ahead of a gruelling Grand Slam campaign.
The Swiss player did, though, take part in the Davis Cup final where he helped Switzerland defeat France to win the team competition for the first time in its history. He also recently won the Brisbane International where he beat Milos Raonic in the final. At the age of 33, however, Federer is looking for his first Grand Slam title since he lifted the Wimbledon trophy in 2012.
Rafael Nadal is on course for his return to the ATP in the Australian Open. He has been out of action since the back end of the 2014 season which forced him to miss the US Open and ATP World Tour Finals due to him needing an operation on his appendix. It is likely that Nadal will not be at his best for his first Grand Slam since Wimbledon 2014 as the five-set format may just come too soon for him.
Andy Murray also needs to prove that he is 100 per cent fit again and is ready to win another Grand Slam to add the US Open and Wimbledon titles in won in 2012 and 2013, respectively. His best run in 2014 was in the French Open where he eventually went out in the last four in Paris on what is considered his least favourite surface.
Only Andre Agassi and Federer have won as many Australian Open titles in the modern Open era as Djokovic, but the Serbian is bidding to exceed that joint-record this year by winning the crown once again in order to stand alone with five tournament successes to his name.
Between 2011 and 2013, he avoided defeat in Melbourne and his run only came to an end last year when eventual champion Wawrinka beat him 9-7 in a fifth-set decider in the quarter-final of the 2014 competition.
In his last seven appearances in the Australian Open, Djokovic has reached the quarter-finals or better so he is a more than worthy contender.