Melbourne’s sporting traditions rub off on world No1 Novak Djokovic

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  • Novak Djokovic is bidding for a sixth crown at Melbourne Park.

    While Roger Federer’s impeccable grass game made him a legend at Wimbledon and Rafael Nadal’s clay superiority saw him reign supreme at Roland Garros, it’s tough to pinpoint the reasons behind Djokovic’s Open Era record five-title haul at the Australian Open. Why there and not the US Open?

    Djokovic is dominant on every surface yet half of his 10 grand slam trophies have been captured at Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne.

    It is where he had his first major success back in 2008 and he admits the memories of that maiden victory still rush to him every time he returns to the hallowed blue courts.

    It could be that the city caters to Djokovic’s every need. The 28-year-old constantly talks about drawing inspiration from the environment around him. He loves nature, spends lots of time outdoors, and is a people person.

    “I think most of the players really enjoy being here in Australia, in Melbourne. It’s a country and city that nurtures sport’s values. Whether it’s professional athletes you see along the way, the facilities that are magnificent around here, or just the regular people that jog, spend a lot of time outdoors, take care of themselves. So when you’re in an environment like this, you feel motivated, you feel inspired to perform at your best,” Djokovic said.

    The world No1 commences his title defence Monday against 19-year-old Chung Hyeon of South Korea, chasing Roy Emerson’s all-time mark of six Australian Open crowns.

    It will be a battle of present vs future, idol vs admirer, veteran vs rookie.  Chung, who was named the ATP’s Most Improved Player for 2015, is making his Australian Open debut and the teenager could not have been dealt a tougher hand.

    Djokovic has lost just one match here in five years – to Stan Wawrinka in the 2014 quarter-finals – while Chung has only played two previous grand slam main draws, winning just one match. But the South Korean is considered one of the main talents coming up on tour and it comes as no surprise that he considers Djokovic an inspiration.

    “I didn’t really try to copy someone but I really like Djokovic, not just his game, but I love how he mentally prepares and stays cool during the match,” Chung told the No Challenges Remaining podcast.

    No3 seed Roger Federer begins his campaign today as he takes on Georgian Nikoloz Basilashvili.

    Like Djokovic, Federer has had great success here in the past, winning four titles – the last in 2010.

    “I would think the Australian Open is the one where players come in maybe most inspired. It’s also been my most consistent slam  maybe until last year. I always played very well here. I don’t know if it’s the conditions or the court speed,” said the 34-year-old. “It’s a good place for me to start the year. The off-season went well for me. Had no setbacks, which was crucial. I was able to work very hard.”

    Also getting the night session treatment is Australian No29 seed Nick Kyrgios who will return to Hisense Arena, the site of his epic come-from-behind five set victory over Andreas Seppi last year that took him into the quarter-finals.

    Kyrgios takes on 24-year-old Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta, who the Aussie beat in a tight three-setter on the clay of Estoril last year.

    On his return to Melbourne, Kyrgios said: “Obviously last year I had a really good run. I just remember it being a really rollercoaster couple of weeks. When I lost against Andy (Murray in the quarters), it almost felt like I was exhausted, mentally and physically drained. Coming back this year, I feel like I’ve grown, physically made a lot of improvements. I feel as if I’m ready for whatever comes.

    “I feel as if I’m more relaxed this year. Coming around, I’ve got a lot more confidence in my game. I feel a lot more comfortable playing in front of the crowd this year. I’m definitely playing a lot better.”

    Kyrgios admits competing at his home slam is no simple task but the fiery 20-year-old is known to thrive on the big stage.

    “There’s definitely a little bit more expectation. The crowd definitely expects any Aussie to play their best tennis here. That’s fair enough. I think every Aussie should step up here and try their absolute hardest to bring the best out of themselves,” he says.