Novak Djokovic finished 2010 with a bang (and a haircut) as he led Serbia to its first ever Davis Cup victory. He won all his singles matches at Hopman Cup last week, including a tidy two setter vs. today’s Kooyong champ, Lleyton Hewitt. The player Darren Cahill picks as the the only guy not named Roger or Rafa with a real chance of hoisting up the Australian Open trophy in two weeks time says he’s ready to do his best Down Under – the Davis Cup hangover’s long gone.
Q. Have you noticed a big impact, the Davis Cup victory, back home?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Yes. Well, I didn’t spend that much time in my country after the victory. But it was two days and two nights celebration. We definitely felt in some way what it meant for the people and what it meant for us in the end.
It was an historical win, maybe once in a lifetime opportunity to play and win the Davis Cup at home in front of almost 20,000 people. It was just a different feeling from the feeling that you experience playing for yourself in any other individual event.
It’s the biggest success that I had in my career so far, next to the Australian Open in 2008.
Q. Not a two day celebration for you, though?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It was, yes, definitely (smiling). Our goal was three days, but… After the second day, we were already in hospital.
Q. Do you think that could take a toll on your chances or preparation for the Open?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: You know, I don’t think so. I already knew when we won the semifinal tie against Czech Republic in Davis Cup in September that I’m going to have a very short off season because of the finals of Davis Cup, the Masters in London.
It’s not the first time that the top player is facing this situation. Nadal had a very similar situation a couple years back. So you just have to adjust to it, try to rest, get the best out of the couple of weeks of preparation that you have.
Hopman Cup was probably the toughest week of preparation that I had. I played a lot of tennis. I had a lot of fitness. And, as I said, I’m feeling good at the moment. I have to. Biggest tournament at this period of the year is coming up in a couple days’ time. There are no excuses anymore.
Novak was asked to pick a favorite:
Q. Where do you think you stand compared to Federer or Nadal? Do you think you’ve caught up to them?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: They’re the two best players in the world, deservedly. Of course, two biggest favorites in any tournament they play on to win the title. I guess I’m in this small group of players behind them that is trying to challenge them in each event.
How far back, I mean, I can’t say. Rankings are showing everything, and results they have made are probably two out of maybe five best players to ever play this game.
To be able to compete with them is a big challenge. Every time we play, you know, they take my game as well to another level. They make me play better.
In case I get to play them in this tournament, I will look forward to it.
Q. Who do you think deserves to be favorite?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: Out of them two?
NOVAK DJOKOVIC: It’s hard to say. You know, they’re really in top shape. I think Federer has been playing fantastic tennis in the last three, four months. He’s the defending champion. So maybe he has a little advantage there. But still Nadal, you know, is No. 1. They’re always there at the top.
This last exchange showcases a really amazing aspect of men’s tennis right now: the No. 3 player in the world is asked to pick a favorite for the tournament – a tournament he’s won in the past – and he good-naturedly assumes that he isn’t being asked to pick himself.
Novak practiced with Rafa on Friday. He seemed to enjoy himself: