Melbourne: Christmas arrived last week for Novak Djokovic, who observes the holiday on January 7 like all members of the Serbian Orthodox Church. And the best present he could have hoped for was the return home of his father Srdjan, after two months in hospital with a respiratory infection.
Srdjan was finally released on Friday, closing one of the more stressful chapters in his family’s life. When you add his illness to the loss of Novak’s grandfather Vladimir in April, the Djokovics must have felt that their luck — which had run so strong ever since their eldest son first picked up a tennis racket — had turned sour in 2012.
Thankfully Srdjan pulled through, despite spending several days in intensive care. Novak looked particularly concerned when he made a flying visit to Belgrade, the day before the Paris Masters was due to start, and went to see him in hospital.
“It’s great news that my father finally got home after two months,” said Djokovic.
Djokovic takes his first steps towards entering the history books on Monday and the two-time defending Australian Open champion is taking nothing for granted in his first round clash.
The world No. 1, bidding to become the first man in the professional era to win three successive Australian Open titles, meets France’s Paul-Henri Mathieu in the final game of the day session on Rod Laver Arena. “There is no underestimating him, that’s for sure,” the Serb said of the 31-year-old right hander, who has won four titles on the ATP Tour.
“Maybe he’s lower ranked at this moment but he was a top-20 player. He knows how it feels to play on a big stage.”
Local fans will also have plenty to look forward to on the tournament’s opening day with sentimental favourite Lleyton Hewitt due to take on eighth-seeded Serb Janko Tipsarevic in the first night match on the main centre court.
Hewitt has been dogged by injuries in recent years and is entering the twilight of his career, but showed glimpses of the class that made him the world’s best player in winning the invitational Kooyong tournament, beating Juan Martin del Potro in the final.
The 31-year-old has already laid down a marker for the Tipsarevic match predicting it would go the distance.
India’s Somdev Dev Varman was drawn against Germany’s Bjorn Phau for his opening match in the men’s singles. It will be the first meeting between Somdev, whose ranking has plummeted to 551, and and the 78th-ranked Phau.
Women’s second seed Maria Sharapova will actually open the tournament’s proceedings on centre court against fellow Russian Olga Puchkova, while former French Open champion Li Na will meet Kazakhstan’s Sesil Karatantcheva on Margaret Court Arena, the third showcourt at the sprawling tennis complex.