In less than a week from a now, the Australian Open—the first Grand Slam event of the year—will begin and just as ever a number of story lines will dominate the proceedings.
In the first of this five-part preview series, Novak Djokovic's aim for a hat-trick of titles is explored.
A Little Bit of History
Considering the length of time that his contemporaries Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have spent in the limelight, it wasn't that long ago when Novak Djokovic first broke onto the tennis scene in a big way.
Always a man to operate just shy of spotlight, Djokovic's young career really kicked off when he reached his first Grand Slam quarter final in the 2006 French Open, propelling him up the rankings into the Top 40 for the first time. The Serbian would then go on to reach the third rounds of both Wimbledon and the US Open in his next two Grand Slam appearances
In 2007, he finally announced himself as a force to be reckoned with. Having lost in the fourth round of the Australian Open to a certain Roger Federer, the young Serb picked himself up to reach the final of Indian Wells and win the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami.
A semifinal at the French Open and Wimbledon later in the summer—on which most would have rested their laurels—was not enough though. The crowning glory was a title win at the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Canada. There, he would defeat then world No. 3 Andy Roddick in the quarter finals, the then world No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the semifinals and the then world No. 1 Roger Federer in the finals.
He would hardly let a loss in the US Open final a few weeks later to Roger Federer make him distraught. The very next year, he would win his first Grand Slam title in Australia and begin a career progression to rival the best that have played the game.
Novak Djokovic's Triple Threat
Looking at it on paper, much of Djokovic's 2012 pales in comparison to his impeccable, still unbelievable 2011 season where he performed a systematic mental demoralization of his fierce rival Rafael Nadal—a man many regarded as one of the most mentally adept players, if not the most, to have ever played the game—and laid claim to the No. 1 ranking with performances that beguiled and dazzled in equal measure his opponents and spectators.
However, 2012 was simply just that inevitable test that comes to check a champion's mettle. In a season where the honors of the Slams were shared among the Big Four and consensus about the standout performer was hard to find, he showed that he was at least equal to the challenge.
The story of 2013 and much of its plot remains to be seen. However, Djokovic's rise mirrors that of Nadal—perhaps the only player that Djokovic could be correctly compared to—who in the years after stellar seasons (2008, 2010) was unable to assert his dominance over his challengers.
In going for his sixth Grand Slam title in Melbourne, the question is no longer about if Djokovic is equal to the challenge, the question is about if he is equipped to assert his dominance to the point where it is beyond doubt.
The first step towards doing that is winning a third-consecutive Australian Open title and establishing a stronghold there similar to Federer's and Nadal's at Wimbledon and Roland Garros respectively.
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