Novak Djokovic is targeting Olympic gold in London and his place among the sporting immortals.
The 25-year-old wept after winning a bronze medal for Serbia with victory over James Blake in Beijing four years ago, and he is hoping to climb to the top step of the podium when the medals are decided at Wimbledon next weekend.
Djokovic has always relished competing for his country, with his astonishing success in 2011 coming on the back of the high of winning Serbia’s first Davis Cup title.
He has been lapping up the Olympic spirit since arriving in London a week ago, and he harked back to the Games’ classical traditions when contemplating what the competition means.
Djokovic said: “The majority of athletes cannot remove the smile from their faces. It’s just an excitement that is like no other.
“This is the most recognised event in the history of sport. In the past, when you won an Olympic gold, you were considered immortal and you got eternal glory, and I don’t think it has changed much really.”
Djokovic’s Olympics will begin tonight at the opening ceremony when he carries Serbia’s flag into the stadium, before a first-round clash with Italy’s Fabio Fognini on Sunday.
“It is a unique experience, maybe once in a lifetime, and I will try to enjoy every single moment of it,” he said.
“I’m aware there are so many other athletes who are equally deserving to be in my position and it is an experience that will hold a special place in my heart.”
Djokovic took over as world number one after winning Wimbledon last year but was usurped by Roger Federer exactly a year later courtesy of the Swiss star’s SW19 triumph over Andy Murray.
Federer is among those in action on the first day tomorrow, the top seed taking on Colombia’s Alejandro Falla, while fellow Wimbledon champion Serena Williams meets Jelena Jankovic.
British pair Anne Keothavong and Elena Baltacha play their first singles matches, with the former facing a tough task against eighth seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark while Baltacha meets Hungary’s Agnes Szavay.
Laura Robson and Heather Watson and Colin Fleming and Ross Hutchins play their doubles openers, as do Andy and Jamie Murray, who face Austrian pair Jurgen Melzer and Alexander Peya.
Andy Murray must wait until Sunday for his first singles match against Stanislas Wawrinka, who will have a day off after carrying Switzerland’s flag tomorrow night.
It was one of the toughest draws Murray could have had, with world number 26 Wawrinka having beaten him four times in 10 meetings, including at the US Open in 2010.
Federer said of the clash: “It’s a tough draw for both guys. They’ve played each other before, they’re good friends and they’ve practised together the last few days so they’re well prepared for each other.
“Obviously I hope Stan can win but I think Murray goes into that match as the favourite, and he goes into the tournament as one of the favourites.”