The heat is on Djokovic in Qatar

Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns to Switzerland's Roger Federer during the men's singles final match of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London on Nov 22, 2015.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic returns to Switzerland's Roger Federer during the men's singles final match of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London on Nov 22, 2015.PHOTO: EPA

It remains to be seen if Serb, who won 3 Slams in 2015, will pick up from where he left off

DOHA • Six weeks after completing one of the greatest seasons in tennis history, Novak Djokovic begins his 2016 campaign and warm-up for his Australian Open defence in Qatar.

The Serb, also the current holder of the Wimbledon and US Open titles, heads a strong field at the Qatar Open starting in Doha tomorrow - which also includes Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdych and defending champion David Ferrer.

All eyes though, at least at the start, will be on Djokovic to see if he can maintain the exceptional heights he achieved last year and to gauge his form ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year, which begins in Melbourne on Jan 18.

The 28-year-old dominated men's tennis last year, all but sweeping away the competition to take three Majors, make 15 consecutive Tour finals and win more than US$21 million (S$29 million) in prize money. He also became the third man to reach all four Grand Slam finals in a year, losing only the French Open to Stan Wawrinka.

Given his achievements last season, Djokovic must be looking to become the first player since Rod Laver, in 1969, to win all four Grand Slams in a single season.

There is also the extra prize of a "fifth Major" this season, with an Olympic gold up for grabs in Rio de Janeiro in August.

"Here we come again to a new season," Djokovic said in an upbeat statement before arriving in Qatar on Wednesday. "I'm so excited to come back and perform at my best in this season-opening tournament, stay tuned!"

Last year, though, Doha represented one of his rare failures. The big serving Croat Ivo Karlovic beat him in three sets in the quarter-finals.

The other big story in Doha is Nadal. Now the world No. 5, Qatar should give some indication if the Spaniard is returning to form as he suggested he might be at the end of last season.

Nadal, who defeated compatriot Ferrer 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3 at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship on Friday before taking on Milos Raonic in the final yesterday, said he has had a great pre-season training at home in Mallorca.

He is the second seed in Doha and could barely do worse than he did 12 months ago when he crashed out in the first round, losing to Germany's Michael Berrer in three sets. The previous year, Nadal, 29, had won in Qatar.

The Czech Berdych is the third seed and Ferrer fourth. "I will be there to defend my title and I hope I will be able to do so," said the 33-year-old Spaniard.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'THE HEAT IS ON DJOKOVIC IN QATAR'. Print Edition | Subscribe