The Australian Open will see Novak Djokovic defend his title in Melbourne, as well as challenge to win a third straight Grand Slam.
But, despite having a great year in 2011, Djokovic will not be able to carry his form into the Australian Open in 2012.
Forget about exhibition matches, they really don’t mean a lot. Djokovic may well have beaten Roger Federer and David Ferrer in Doha Exhibitions, but that doesn’t mean a thing.
It does mean that his odds have shortened a little. In addition, the recent demise of Rafael Nadal and Federer in Doha will see Djokovic go into the tournament as a strong favourite.
But the bookies are not always right.
Djokovic will show the tennis world that his run of form was just a freak season—a year where everything came together for him and he genuinely was the best player around. But that can’t be sustained.
Not with Federer and Rafa Nadal around.
Whilst his exciting form will not continue, his game has undoubtedly been improved by his new experience. But he is still a little behind both Federer and Nadal.
The great pair of Federer and Nadal have had several years at the top; Djokovic has had one.
That experience of being at the top has given them, well, it's given them experience. They know what it is like to have everyone searching for a weakness. They know how to battle through when things are tough. They can carry the weight of expectation.
The question is now—how much better are Federer and Nadal going to be, now that part of that expectation has been lifted and handed over to Djokovic?
At the Australian Open, we will see Djokovic face a major test of his number one spot. Not in a literal sense that he won't be world number one, but in the way everyone is ready for him.
Last year, Djokovic was on runaway train blasting his way to the top.
This year, everyone can see him coming.
The tennis world has spent the winter looking for a weakness in the Djokovic game. His season in 2011 could well be one of the most analyzed of all time.
Djokovic placed himself in a position where the likes of Federer and Nadal no longer see him as a man that might beat them every now and then.
He is now a major threat, and they need to figure out how to beat him. They will have spent a lot of time figuring that out.
Nadal has been the most vocal about this. A change in racquet to one with a bit more weight should help him shorten the rally and hit more winners. Nadal 2.0—even bigger winners. That is a frightening prospect.
And then comes Roger Federer. The perfectionist. He seems to have this internal desire and drive to prove himself. He wants to know himself, and prove it to the world that he can beat Djokovic again. So he will have a plan of his own.
Then you have the rest of the field—Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Juan Martin del Potro... at least these three are more than capable of beating Djokovic. It's just like how they were always capable of beating Nadal or Federer.
Now they are gunning for Djokovic just as much, if not more than, Federer and Nadal.
Djokovic has always been in the shadows. Now it is his turn to cast the shadow over the others in tennis. But he won’t be able to cope. He can’t take that light on his own. At least he needs someone to share the burden.
We saw Djokovic start to pick up injuries and struggle with his game a little towards the end of the season, especially at the indoor stretch. He looked vulnerable in that light.
Since then, little has changed. Except, the light has gotten brighter.
Djokovic may well have come out with exactly the same result last season no matter what. His achievement was incredible, but there are a couple of things to remember.
It was September before we really saw Federer arrive on the tour. And Nadal seemed to struggled to get to grips with his game for the entire year. Will that happen again?
No. Expect the two of them to be firing on all cylinders at the Australian Open.
Djokovic will fail in Australia. He isn't going to win.
Last season was a freak season, and it won't continue into 2012.
Djokovic will feel the strain and settle back down to being one of four or five players contending, rather than the guy we expect to win.
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