Novak Djokovic claims to be in the best shape of his career as he bids to put last year’s ugly exit from the Australian Open behind him.
The Serb’s bid for a second consecutive crown at Melbourne Park wilted under the baking sun as cramps forced his early retirement from his quarter-final against Andy Roddick when trailing 7-6 (7-3) 4-6 2-6 1-2.
That was the third time in as many years Djokovic had quit in the latter stages of a major.
He pulled out in the quarters of the 2006 French Open against Rafael Nadal and in the semi-finals of Wimbledon the following year, also against the Spaniard.
“I was in the role of defending champion at a grand slam for the first time in my life so I was going through a lot of tough periods at the start of 2009,” Djokovic said in Kooyong where he will headline an elite eight-man field ahead of the Australian Open.
“I didn’t feel 100% physically ready for the tournament, then I changed my racquet and I think it all reflected on my game and on court, and I was going through a lot of stress periods.
“Unfortunately, I finished the way I did, but this year is quite different and I just hope it won’t finish that way.”
A change in off-court personnel – and attitude – has the world number three excited about his prospects for 2010.
Djokovic spent almost two weeks in high-altitude training in the Italian Alps followed by further intensive training in Dubai.
The contrasting conditions, he believes, will hold his body in good stead for the harsh Australian summer.
“Training up high helps the blood cells and gets more oxygen to the body. I always try to get to the mountains and then rest two weeks,” he said.
Former world number four Todd Martin has joined the Djokovic camp as a new coach to work alongside long-time mentor Marian Vajda.
“I think (it) is a good decision because he’s a great person, very calm, and he brings this calmness to the team. It’s totally opposite from me,” Djokovic said.
“He was at the top of men’s tennis for many years, and he knows what the deal is on the court and he can help me a lot. He has a lot of experience.”
Djokovic has called for a two-month break between seasons as the schedule becomes increasingly crowded.
The Serb, a member of the ATP Player Council, said talks would continue during the Australian Open in an attempt to find a solution.
“This is a priority,” he said. “But (fixing the season) is not just about the players, we have to consider everyone.
“We are trying to fight for players’ rights. It’s important that people understand how we feel. The season is just too long and having four or five weeks between when the season ends and the start of a new season is so little.
“We have to have at least two months, that’s the minimum considering the season we are playing and the amount of matches and the level we are playing at.
“We will have some talks here in Australia and we will try to work towards (solving the problem in) the next couple of months to make it better.”
Djokovic will face German Tommy Haas in his first round-robin match at the AAMI Classic on Wednesday.
Also in the field are US Open champion Juan Martin Del Potro, 2009 French Open finalist Robin Soderling, Spaniard Fernando Verdasco and former Australian Open finalists Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Fernando Gonzalez.