Serb channels Bond for history bid Down Under
Novak Djokovic has no pretensions to being a super spy but the number 007 has got the Australian Open champion “pumped” ahead of the year’s first Grand Slam.
The 29-year-old Serb joined Roy Emerson as the most successful men’s champion at the Australian Open last year when he beat Andy Murray for his sixth title at Melbourne Park.
Seven, however, has a nice sound to it, the former world No 1 said on Thursday.
“007, Why not? Maybe this is the year. Seven in 17. I’m not a numerologist but it sounds good,” a laughing Djokovic told the tournament’s website on Thursday.
“In terms of my feelings of coming to Melbourne, the last five or six years it has been pretty much the same. I am very pumped to do well.”
Doing well and Djokovic go hand-in-hand in Melbourne.
In recent years he has made the blue hardcourts near the center of the city his own, winning the men’s title five times in the last six years since 2011.
Such has been his dominance since he won his maiden Grand Slam in Australia in 2008, he has lost only three times at Melbourne Park.
All were in the quarterfinals, with the 2014 loss coming at the hands of eventual champion Stan Wawrinka.
Every time he has made the final, he has won.
In four of those finals he has beaten current world No 1 Murray, who he also bettered in a scintillating final in Doha last weekend.
Murray, who was knighted in the New Year, had a phenomenal second half of 2016.
It included clinching his second Wimbledon title and successfully defending his Olympic gold medal in Rio as Djokovic’s season dramatically fell off after he beat the Scot in the French Open final at Roland Garros.
The Briton’s strong form vaulted him to the top of the world rankings, meaning Djokovic is not the top seed at the season-opening slam for the first time since 2014.
“Andy deserves to be No 1,” Djokovic said. “He had a tremendous last six months of 2016.
“This year we have already played a thrilling match and I am looking forward to our rivalry.
“Considering the memories I have and the results in the past I am really looking forward to being back again. I’m not the only one who is excited but it does give me goose bumps to come back (and) ... I’m feeling phenomenal.”
Djokovic drew a difficult first-round opponent in Fernando Verdasco, while Roger Federer’s fall in the rankings complicated his chances at Melbourne Park as he ended up in same quarter as topranked Murray, No 5 Kei Nishikori and No 10 Tomas Berdych.
The official draw for the season’s first major was held on Friday and delivered an awkward opponent for Djokovic. Verdasco upset fellow Spaniard Rafael Nadal in the first round here last year, and had five match points before losing to Djokovic in the semifinals at Doha last weekend.
Federer had surgery on his left knee last February after reaching the Aussie Open semifinals and, after ending his record run of 65 consecu- tive majors by skipping the French Open, spent the second half of 2016 on the sidelines recovering after a semifinal exit at Wimbledon.
The 35-year-old 17-time Grand Slam winner slipped to No 16 in the year-end rankings, and dropped a further spot this week to be seeded 17 th after Grigor Dimitrov beat Nishikori in the Brisbane International final last Sunday and moved up to No 15.
Unless there’s a huge upset in his opener, Federer will play qualifiers in the first two rounds, then potentially former Wimbledon finalist Berdych in the third round and 2014 US Open finalist Nishikori in the fourth round.
Murray, who has lost five Australian Open finals, won nine titles in 2016 including Wimbledon, the Olympic tournament and the season-ending ATP Tour Finals to replace Djokovic in the year-end No 1 spot.
He will play Ukraine’s Illya Marchenko in the first round and has a potential third round against American world No 31 Sam Querrey, who upset Djokovic at the same stage last year at Wimbledon.
US Open champion Stan Wawrinka is on the bottom of the same half of the draw.
No 2-ranked Djokovic is in the other half and has No 4 Dominic Thiem, No 11 David Goffin and No 15 Dimitrov in his quarter.
Nadal and third-ranked Milos Raonic are in the top quarter on that side of the draw.
Novak Djokovic (right) gets some bowling tips from former Australian cricketer Shane Warne during a promotional event for the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Wednesday.