Djokovic ready to re­turn

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel - - Outdoors -

No­vak Djokovic is back from six months off the tour with a re­mod­eled ser­vice mo­tion partly in­spired by An­dre Agassi and a grow­ing con­fi­dence he can get his sore right el­bow through the Australian Open.

No man has more Australian Open ti­tles than Djokovic, who has six in all and — un­til last year’s shock­ing sec­ond-round exit — had won five of the six con­tested from 2011 to 2016.

Djokovic is seeded 14th and will be com­ing off just a cou­ple of ex­hi­bi­tion matches to pre­pare for his first-round en­counter against Don­ald Young.

The 12-time ma­jor win­ner is in the same quar­ter as No. 4 Alexan­der Zverev, No. 5 Do­minic Thiem and 2014 cham­pion Stan Wawrinka, who con­firmed Satur­day he’d re­turn at Mel­bourne Park from his own six-month lay­off fol­low­ing surgery on his left knee.

They’re all in the same half of the draw as de­fend­ing cham­pion Roger Federer, who last year re­turned from an ex­tended in­jury time out to beat Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open fi­nal. Federer went on to win Wim­ble­don for his 19th ma­jor and fin­ished the year ranked No. 2 be­hind Nadal, who won the French and U.S. Open ti­tles.

That is giv­ing Djokovic some hope. “I mean, Roger and Rafa’s year last year has shown age is just a num­ber, es­pe­cially in Roger’s case,” Djokovic said Satur­day in his pre-tour­na­ment news con­fer­ence. “I mean, 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 Grand Slams. Who would pre­dict that af­ter his six months of ab­sence, so ... ev­ery­thing is pos­si­ble re­ally.”

On the women’s side, with no Ser­ena Wil­liams in the draw, there’s cer­tainly an op­por­tu­nity for an­other women’s player to go on a sur­pris­ing run and emerge as a first-time Grand Slam cham­pion, as Sloane Stephens and Je­lena Ostapenko did last year.

Just don’t de­scribe the first Grand Slam of the year as “more open” than usual.

“When­ever I get asked that ques­tion, it al­ways comes across in re­ally kind of an al­most negative way in­stead of ac­knowl­edg­ing how many great play­ers we have,” Jo­hanna Konta, who reached the semi­fi­nals of Wim­ble­don last year, said in her pre-tour­na­ment news con­fer­ence Satur­day.

“The depth in women’s ten­nis I re­ally do be­lieve in the last few years has got­ten so strong,” she added. “There’s no straight sail­ing to the quar­ters or semis. It doesn’t ex­ist.”

Stephens agrees the Australian Open field is still ex­tremely tough, even with Wil­liams, the de­fend­ing cham­pion and 23-time ma­jor win­ner, skip­ping the tour­na­ment as she con­tin­ues her re­cov­ery from a com­pli­cated child­birth in Septem­ber.

“There’s a lot of great play­ers,” she said. “It’s up for grabs.”

In­deed, any num­ber of women could be hold­ing the tro­phy at Mel­bourne Park in two weeks. The No. 1-rank­ing changed seven times in 2017, with five different women as­sum­ing top spot — three for the first time.

GETTY IMAGES

De­spite be­ing seeded 14th and be­ing off for six months, No­vak Djokovic is one of the fa­vorites to win the Australian Open.

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