19 January - 1 February 2015
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Novak Djokovic

There are smiles - and then there are Novak Djokovic smiles.

He is a man who wears his emotions visibly, his lean physique relaxed or rigid depending on whether he is laughing in agreement or bristling in defence, spending his first press conference of 2014 handing out chocolates to the world's press like a self-anointed Father Christmas, but in the same breath making it quite clear that he is here with one focus. Winning.

At 7pm on Monday evening, wearing that same blazing smile, Djokovic will walk out onto Rod Laver Arena, and acknowledge the 15,000 people in their seats as the defending champion.

It will be the fourth time he fulfils this honour, opening the first night session of the year's first Grand Slam tournament. One wonders, does he aim to do everything just as he did the year before? Put in the same work, follow the same routine, play with the same intensity, and achieve the same result?

We know tennis does not work that way. Different factors move in and out of contention like Melbourne's trams move around the CBD. And there are several items on the this year's agenda. The heat. The court speed. His coach. His rivals.

"I don't change anything in particular in my approach," Djokovic decreed, when asked about his preparations for the impending heat. "Everything is more or less the same. I am expecting to play in a big heat. You always have to expect because you can't really predict Melbourne's weather. I've been working of course, a lot with my team , making sure I'm fit and ready to play best-of-five conditions."

Similarly, the court speed, Djokovic feels, does not merit much discussion.

"For me the court, Rod Laver Arena, is the same like last year," he said. "Last year it was slightly faster comparing to the years before, but no major difference."

Next item, the appointment of Boris Becker as his head coach, which has naturally caused quite the kerfuffle among the rows of press desks. Is it an admission of weakness? That he feels there is something missing from his game? Was it inspired by Ivan Lendl's success with Andy Murray? Is it a risk?

Djokovic explains, instead, that it was a simple reaction to his long-term mentor, Marian Vajda, asking his pupil if he could spend a little more time at home. The two put their heads together, and thought that Becker, with his vast experience as a player, might act as a suitable replacement.

"He [Vajda] had the initiative of recommending somebody that has been in similar situations and has similar mindset, knows what I'm going through, and could help me from that mental point of view," Djokovic said. "Boris came to our mind. We contacted him last September."

"Whenever you make a change in life, it's a potential risk, right?" Djokovic continued. "But I don't want to think from that perspective. I'm really excited about this partnership that I have with Boris that also has been approved and supported by Marian, who is still in the team. He's still going to travel with me on certain tournaments that Boris is not going to be there. We're going to spend a lot of time on preparations.

"We look forward to working with each other. It's just the beginning," he said, revealing that he and Boris haven't actually had the opportunity to hit together yet, Becker's recent ankle surgery proving to be the limiting factor.

"I have the utmost respect for what he has achieved in his career. But tennis has evolved in a way because of the technology. Now the game is based on the baseline, longer rallies and so forth. Well I believe with his great volleys, that aggressive kind of mindset also, from that point of view he can help me."

And then there is his opposition. Rafael Nadal, twice a Grand Slam champion in 2013, is deemed by many to be the greatest threat to Djokovic's quest to win a fifth Melbourne Park crown, but Andy Murray, three-times a finalist here, is the one he is asked about, not Rafa.

"Andy, for the last five, six years has been one of the best players in the world. In looking at the results that he has made here in Melbourne Park that makes him one of the favourites," Djokovic answered. "We played a little bit in Abu Dhabi. He's striking the ball really well. Obviously it's going to take a little bit of time to get into that match play mode. I'm sure that he's going to be just fine."

And then out come the chocolates, the smile returns, and Djokovic moves on, mind on the next matter. Winning.    

Wednesday, 18 February 2015
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