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Evolved Djokovic can stand the heat

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Originally published on: 17/01/12 10:48

Predicting the success stories of the tennis season to come is a mean feat, requiring proficiency in the art of crystal ball gazing. But while it’s hard to predict what will happen this year, we all know what won’t, right?

Novak Djokovic simply cannot repeat the season he had in 2011, I think we’re, erm, all, er, certain of that. Aren’t we?

The Serb kicked off the 2012 season like he begs to differ, needling a teensy element of doubt into our minds by starting the year like he means to go on with a 6-2 6-0 6-0 first round victory over Paolo Lorenzi at the Australian Open.

“It took me a couple of games to get into the right rhythm,” said Djokovic, almost as if dropping two games was an ugly blotch on his attempt to round off the first Grand Slam of the year with 21 straight bagels to his name.

But that’s the mark of the man now. He’s raised the bar after winning three of the four major prizes in tennis. Physically, the 24-year-old Belgrade native can take punishments like he couldn’t before, and in beating Lorenzi in an hour and 32 minutes, he brushed off the searing heat that might well have caused him to wilt in days gone by.

“Today was, I think, around 35 degrees, so it took a bit of time to get used to the heat. But, you know, I’m quite happy physically the way I’m handling the heat,” said Djokovic.

“It’s obviously important to prepare well, I guess physically build up that endurance and strength in order to feel well on the court and to bear the conditions, whatever they are.”

Djokovic is well aware too, of his evolution both on the court and off it since he scored his first Grand Slam triumph in Melbourne four years ago.

“I feel much more complete as a player,” he said. “Mentally I’ve gained a lot of experience playing at the top level in last couple of years. I finished the year as No.3 the last four years and that helped me a lot to understand the game better, to understand what I need to do in order to win major events.

“But I think the crucial thing that changed from me winning in 2008 and last year is that I get onto the court believing in my abilities more than I did back then and playing more consistent, playing well on a consistent level throughout the whole year, rather than in 2008, you know I had a lot of ups and downs.”

The next test (though it might be generous to call it that) for the Serb is a second round bout against Santiago Giraldo of Colombia, with either Tatsuma Ito or Nicolas Mahut awaiting in round three.

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