MELBOURNE, Australia (AP):
Novak Djokovic shelved the conventional preparations for a while, warming up for a shot at a third consecutive Australian title with a bit of weekend hit-and-giggle and a Gangnam Style dance with Serena Williams.
That was for kids' day, when thousands of people flocked to Rod Laver Arena to see 2012 Australian champions Djokovic and Victoria Azarenka hitting in a just-for-fun match with players including past champions Roger Federer and Serena Williams, a cast of human-sized cartoon characters and a marching band that played the tune to Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Today, the No. 1-ranked Djokovic will be back to work, hoping his opener against Paul-Henri Mathieu is the first of seven matches this month at the venue where he's had the most success in Grand Slam tennis. His five-set, 5-hour, 53-minute win over Rafael Nadal in the final last year has already been written into Australian Open folklore, and followed his titles at Melbourne Park in 2008 and 2011.
The fun matches, the joking around and the break from official tournaments in the off season are crucial ingredients to Djokovic's success in Australia.
TIME TO REST, RECHARGE
"You get time to recover, regroup, recharge your batteries mentally, physically, try to get ready for the new season," said the 25-year-old Djokovic, who had a final practice session early yesterday afternoon with fellow Serbian Viktor Troicki. "You come here fresh. You're motivated and inspired to play some good tennis.
"This is my most successful Grand Slam. But this Grand Slam is also known for a lot of surprises, players who have been reaching the final stages who are not expected to. We'll see. The Australian Open always brings something interesting."
No man has won three successive Australian titles in the Open era, which dates back to 1968 - Jack Crawford (1931-33) and Roy Emerson (1963-67) did it before then. Nine players have won back-to-back titles in the meantime, but were unable to complete the hat-trick.
Williams also has three on her mind, as in three majors in a row. The No. 3-ranked Williams is a hot favourite to win her sixth Australian Open title after a run of 35 wins in her last 36 matches since a shocking first-round defeat at the French Open. She finished off last year by winning at Wimbledon, the London Olympics, the US Open and the season-ending championships.
She started this year by winning the title at the Brisbane International, where she was due to face Azarenka in the semi-finals before the 23-year-old Belarusian withdrew due to treatment for a toe infection.