Tennis: Djokovic cool in the face of extreme heat

Novak Djokovic serves during a practice session ahead of the 2016 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne.
Novak Djokovic serves during a practice session ahead of the 2016 Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne. PHOTO: AFP

Djokovic ready to handle high temperatures, rivals en route to a sixth Australian Open title

MELBOURNE • World No. 1 Novak Djokovic is a red-hot favourite to overcome all opponents and clinch another Australian Open title this year, although extreme temperatures will be a wild card the Serb has to watch out for.

He opens the defence of his title on Rod Laver Arena today against South Korea's rising talent Chung Hyeon, right about the time temperatures are expected to approach 37deg C at Melbourne Park.

Djokovic famously withdrew from his quarter-final against Andy Roddick in 2009 due to heat exhaustion with temperatures at about the same level. He was the defending champion at the time.

"You've got to get yourself ready for whatever is coming your way," the Serb said yesterday when asked about the possibility of the extreme heat. "You spend the off-season training hard, getting your endurance level to that extent where you can actually handle the conditions.

"Of course, sometimes it's very difficult to handle them if it goes over 40 degrees.

"Whatever is coming our way tomorrow, I'll try to be ready for it."

He has been ready for it since his 2009 meltdown. He is now one of the fittest players on the circuit, with his off-season workouts helping set the base for his four titles in the last five years in Melbourne.

Fittingly, the defending champion will start as raging favourite for a sixth title at the year's first Grand Slam, continuing the domination of men's tennis that saw him win 11 tournaments last year and three of the four Majors.

"It (2015) was the best season and best year of my life undoubtedly," he said. "I enjoyed every moment spent on the court. I'll try to obviously carry that confidence and high level of performance that I've had, especially towards the end of the year, into the new season.

"(But) I'm here to start from the very beginning, to start from scratch, and see where it takes me."

Victory would enable him to join Australia's Roy Emerson as the only six-time winners of the Australian Open. His usual rivals include Andy Murray, the two-time Grand Slam winner who has reached four of the last six finals at Melbourne Park.

But the world No. 2 is set to become a father for the first time and he could quit the tournament if his wife, Kim Sears, goes into labour.

"For me, my child is more important to me, and my wife is more important to me, than a tennis match," said the Briton, who is seeded to meet Djokovic in the Jan 31 decider if all follows schedule.

Roger Federer, the third seed, could face Djokovic in the semi-finals as the 17-time Grand Slam champion looks to win his first Major title since Wimbledon 2012.

A second Australian Open title for Spaniard Rafael Nadal appears a stretch after his slump last year, but Stan Wawrinka, champion in 2014, should be a contender after he beat Djokovic in last year's French Open final. "It's a new year. Hopefully I can do something good this year," said the Swiss.



Singtel TV Ch114/115 and StarHub 208/209, 8am & 4pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'COOL IN FACE OF EXTREME HEAT'. Print Edition | Subscribe