Iron man Djokovic bids to extend Melbourne Park supremacy

Mon Jan 7, 2013 3:14am EST
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By Ian Ransom

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Defending champion Novak Djokovic returns to the Australian Open seeking his third consecutive trophy at Melbourne Park, where memories of last year's gut-wrenching final against Rafa Nadal still linger around Rod Laver Arena's blue centre court.

Last year's record-breaking epic of five punishing hours and 53 minutes secured Djokovic his fifth grand slam title while establishing the 25-year-old as tennis's indisputable iron man.

The marathon match would also serve as a portent for the year ahead for the steely-eyed Serb, who came under siege from his 'Big Four' rivals but emerged from an attritional season with his world number one ranking intact.

If 2011 was the year Djokovic soared into the stratosphere on the back of three grand slam titles and an astonishing 41-match winning streak, he has brought gently back to Earth in 2012.

After winning his third Australian Open, Djokovic would add no further major titles last year, with the spoils shared by Rafa Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

Federer, who shattered Djokovic's Wimbledon defense in the semi-final on the way to his 17th major crown, would even praise the number one ranking away from the Serb before losing it again less than four months later.

Djokovic would taste further disappointment with a semi-final loss to Briton Murray at the London Olympics, where he was also upset by Argentine Juan Martin Del Potro in the bronze medal match.

Murray, a good friend off the court, would later quash Djokovic's U.S. Open title defense in a grueling five-set final.   Continued...

Novak Djokovic of Serbia hits a return to Fernando Verdasco of Spain during their men's singles match at the Hopman Cup tennis tournament in Perth January 5, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer