The defending Australian Open champion finished 2012 with the No.1 ranking in hand, an impressive 75-12 record and five straight top 10 wins while walking away the victor at the ATP World Tour Finals.
Strengths: For Novak, it’s all about his ability to turn defense into offense. He beat Rafael Nadal in last year’s epic AO final by doing what the Spaniard is famous for – but only doing it better. His weaponry lies not in a single shot, but that he is the complete package and seems willing to dog it out (even for six hours) more than any other top player on tour. His return game is unmatched, having won 43 per cent of return points played in 2012 and breaking his opponent’s serve more than once in every three tries.
Weaknesses: Where there is strength, there is also weakness. So is true with the 25-year-old Serbian, who lacks one great shot that can end points quickly and decisively – a la Roger Federer’s forehand. Yes, he can be one of the great shot-makers in tennis, but the five-time major champion risks getting drawn out and overly tired in seven matches over two weeks, making him vulnerable in the latter stages at Melbourne. Djokovic’s tendency to lose focus – though much improved over the last two years – is something he should avoid if he wants to win here again.
Opportunities: Djokovic’s season flagged a bit after his victory here a year ago, losing to rivals Rafael Nadal, Federer and Andy Murray in the year’s final three majors. But he ended the year white hot, winning 15 of 16 matches while triumphing in Beijing, the Shanghai Masters and the World Tour Finals. More notably, Djokovic beat both Murray and Federer in London, cementing him as the year-end world No.1 and vaulting him to favourite status coming into Australian Open 2013.
Threats: ‘The Big Four’– Novak, Roger, Andy and Rafa –have a stranglehold on men’s tennis that doesn’t appear to be breaking anytime soon. Novak’s threats lie in this exclusive club, as his aforementioned losses at the French Open, Wimbledon and the US Open demonstrate from last year. And should Novak be drawn into longer matches in week one against lower-ranked players, he could be left vulnerable.
Craig Tiley, Australian Open tournament director:
“Over the last five years Novak’s been the most successful performer here. He’s No.1 in the world and loves the Australian Open. You’d argue that he has to be the favourite coming in, based on that. He won the World Tour Finals, so he finished the year the strongest … he’s a hard one to beat."