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Djokovic Still The Man To Beat

Novak Djokovic

Djokovic© Getty ImagesNovak Djokovic won his fifth Grand Slam championship at the start of the year in Melbourne.

ATPWorldTour.com reviews five storylines from the first quarter of the 2012 season. In the second installment, we look at how Novak Djokovic has begun to back up his incredible 2011 campaign.

Novak Djokovic had a lot to live up to coming into the 2012 season. Last year, the Serbian blitzed all in his path, going on a 41-match winning streak, winning three major championships and losing just six times (70-6 record).

Having won two of his four tournaments this season, he remains the player to beat. Indeed, following victory at last week’s victory at the Sony Ericsson Open, the Belgrade native is already targeting another strong clay-court campaign that could lead him to the elusive Roland Garros crown.

"I have been really playing well in the past couple of years here (in Miami), so this is going to be very encouraging for me prior to the clay-court season," said Djokovic, who opens his clay-court campaign in two weeks’ time at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters.

Expectations are certainly high for the Serb in the coming weeks, but it is a challenge he is willing to embrace. "I look forward to it," he said. "I want to start well. I want to start strong. I want to go deep in the [Monte-Carlo] tournament, and there are a lot of tournaments coming up. Obviously Roland Garros, Olympics, Wimbledon, they are top of the priority list, but still, I want to perform well at all the others."

Judging on his form thus far in 2012, it would be hard to look past Djokovic to continue his dominance, despite the threat of a resurgent Federer and ‘King of Clay’ Nadal, whom he has beaten in seven straight finals.  

Read: Djokovic vs Nadal - The Rivalry

After edging Andy Murray 7-5 in the fifth set of their Australian Open semi-final clash, Djokovic showed incredible endurance and nerve to hold off Nadal in the longest-ever major championship match, lasting five hours and 53 minutes.

"I'm sure any other tennis player would say the same, we live for these matches," declared Djokovic on that occasion. "We work every day. We're trying to dedicate all our lives to this sport to come to the situation where we play [a] six-hour match for a Grand Slam title."

Two prestigious awards were bestowed upon the 24-year-old Djokovic after his triumph in Melbourne. He was awarded his nation’s highest honour, the Order of the Karadjordje's Star of the 1st degree, by Serbian president Boris Tadic, and was then named Laureus World Sportsman of the Year at a ceremony in London.

Djokovic returned to action for the first time since his Melbourne success, at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. But he was unable to replicate the remarkable unbeaten run of 2011, falling to Murray in the semi-finals. Two weeks later he endured another defeat, losing to big-serving American John Isner in a third-set tie-break in the semi-finals of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells.

It wasn’t long before the Serb returned to the winners' circle, though. Two weeks later in Miami he tore through the draw without losing a set, dispatching World No. 5 David Ferrer in the quarter-finals before avenging the Dubai defeat to Murray in the final. It was his third victory in Miami, adding to triumphs in 2007 (d. Canas) and 2011 (d. Nadal).

"I didn't drop a set, which is very impressive," said Djokovic. "I'm really happy with the way I played the last three matches against three very good opponents and top players, so this is a very positive thing for the continuation of the season."

FIRST QUARTER REVIEW

Monday: Isner - From Marathon Man To Dangerman

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