Pain-free Novak Djokovic targets golden season ahead of Australian Open

Serbian great sets sights on all four majors and Olympic gold in 2024

Serbia's Novak Djokovic will be the overwhelming favourite at the Australian Open. Reuters
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Novak Djokovic will have his sights on arguably the biggest prize in tennis as he begins his Australian Open campaign on Sunday.

Djokovic has made it a habit to begin the year with a title in Australia. He's on a 28-match winning streak at Melbourne Park, where he has won a staggering 10 men's singles crowns – the biggest contributor to his record 24 Grand Slam titles.

The Serbian won 27 of his 28 matches in majors last year, losing only the Wimbledon final to Carlos Alcaraz. He is determined to go one better than that in 2024, and hopefully add an Olympic gold medal in Paris to go with it.

Asked on Saturday if the 'Golden Slam' – all four majors plus Olympic gold – was his target this season, Djokovic said he wants to win it all.

“It’s no different this year,” he said. “I’m just hoping I can start the season in a way that I have been starting my seasons, most of my seasons, throughout my career: with a win here in Australia, in Melbourne. My favourite place, no doubt.

“The season is so long. We have an Olympic year. Grand Slams, Olympics, those are the big goals. It's not a secret that I want to break more records and make more history of the game. That's something that keeps on motivating me.”

The injury update from Djokovic was also encouraging on the eve of his Australian Open opener.

Djokovic hurt his wrist playing for Serbia in the United Cup last week, and needed treatment twice during a quarter-final loss to Australia's Alex de Minaur.

“My wrist is good. I had time from the last match against de Minaur to my first match here to recover,” he said ahead of Sunday's match against qualifier Dino Prizmic. “I’ve been training well. Practice sessions pain-free so far. It’s good. It’s all looking good.”

Meanwhile, the opening Grand Slam of the year gets under way as a 15-day event for the first time, aimed at cutting down on late-night finishes.

Djokovic and other players hope the change will mean evening matches will no longer drag on until the early hours of the next morning.

The French Open made a similar move in 2006 while the other Grand Slams at Flushing Meadows and Wimbledon remain 14-day tournaments.

While the Roland Garros decision was aimed at giving the tournament more exposure, particularly on TV, Australian Open organisers said their move was made with player welfare in mind, with data showing matches now lasted longer.

The extra day on the schedule allows Rod Laver Arena and Margaret Court Arena to feature two matches instead of three in the day session, meaning there will be no spillover to the evening session.

Reigning champion Djokovic, who founded the Professional Tennis Players Association, was keen to see if the changes would help.

“I guess that's one of the motives behind starting on Sunday,” he said.

“Obviously there are other Slams that start on Sunday. Roland Garros starts on Sunday, as well.

“That's going to help, I'm sure, get some matches out of the way, reorganise the schedule better in the opening week which is always very busy with a lot of matches on the schedule that need to be finished in a proper time.

“Let's see if that works out.”

World No 1 Djokovic is an overwhelming favourite and the sore wrist that cast a shadow over his build-up no longer troubling him.

The Serbian's first real test could come in the third round, with a potential blockbuster showdown against fellow veteran Andy Murray.

Meanwhile, Alcaraz says the challenge of toppling Djokovic in Australian gives him “extra motivation” as he aims to end the Serbian's long reign in Melbourne.

The Spanish world No 2 missed the Grand Slam last year with a leg injury but is seeded to meet Djokovic in the final.

The pair have met five times – all in semi-finals or finals – with the veteran leading 3-2.

Djokovic is unbeaten at the year's opening major since 2018 but Alcaraz, who came out on top in a thrilling Wimbledon final last year, said that only increased his desire to win.

“It's an extra motivation for me,” the two-time Grand Slam champion said on Saturday. “I'm an ambitious guy.

“I always want to play against the best players in the world to see what my level is. Obviously it's a good test, playing against him in the places or in the tournament that he's almost unbeaten.

“Yeah, I am looking to reach the final and hopefully playing a final against him. It would be great, obviously.”

Alcaraz is aiming to become just the fourth man to win three majors before turning 21 after Rafael Nadal, Bjorn Borg and Mats Wilander.

Updated: January 13, 2024, 1:09 PM