By David Harding ,AFP
DOHA, Qatar – Six weeks after completing one of the greatest seasons in tennis history, Novak Djokovic begins his 2016 campaign and warm up for his Australian Open defence in Qatar.
The Serbian, also current holder of Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, heads a strong field at the Qatar Open starting in Doha on Monday, which also includes Rafael Nadal, Tomas Berdych and defending champion David Ferrer.
All eyes though, at least at the start, will be on Djokovic to see if he can maintain the exceptional heights he achieved last year and to gauge his form ahead of the first Grand Slam of the year, which begins in Melbourne on Jan. 18.
The 28-year-old dominated men’s tennis last year, all but sweeping away the competition to take three majors, make 15 consecutive tour finals and win more than US$21 million (19 million euros) in prize money.
He also became the third man to reach all four Grand Slam finals in a year, losing out only in the French Open to Stan Wawrinka.
Given his achievements last season, Djokovic must be looking to become the first player since Rod Laver, in 1969, to win all four Grand Slams in a single season. There is also the extra prize of a “fifth major” this season, with an Olympics gold medal up for grabs in Rio in August.
“Here we come again to a new season,” Djokovic said in an upbeat statement before arriving in Qatar on Dec. 30.
“I’m so excited to come back and perform at my best in this season opening tournament, stay tuned!” Last year though, Doha represented one of his rare failures.
The big serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic beat him in three seats in the quarterfinals.
The other big story in Doha is Rafael Nadal.
Now the world No. 5, Qatar should give some indication if the Spaniard is returning to form as he suggested he might be at the end of last season.
Nadal said he’s had a great pre-season training at home in Mallorca and told journalists in the UAE at the end of last month that he aims to be “very competitive” during 2016.
He is the No. 2 seed in Doha and could barely do worse than he did 12 months ago when he crashed out in the first round, losing to Germany’s Michael Berrer in three sets.
The previous year, Nadal, 29, had won in Qatar.