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Martin Rogers

Next steps the toughest for Djokovic

Busted Racquet

Over the past four years only one man has known what it feels like to break the Grand Slam monopoly of Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.

Novak Djokovic's victory at the Australian Open last year was the only time in the last 15 Slams that one of tennis' two biggest stars did not emerge as the champion.

Yet as he headed Down Under to defend his title this month, the Serbian world No. 3 has somehow managed to duck under the radar.

Once again, all eyes are on Nadal and Federer and the latest installment of their epic and ongoing battle at the top table of tennis.

That has suited Djokovic just fine. Whereas once he loved nothing more than to seek attention, delighting crowds with his hilarious impersonations of other players, these days he is more circumspect.

The 21-year-old believes he is the player best equipped to compete with Nadal and Federer, especially at this tournament, but would prefer to steer clear of the limelight at Melbourne Park.

Last year he dispatched Federer in three straight sets in a magnificent semifinal performance before outlasting Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the final.

Another final four meeting with Federer could beckon again, provided Djokovic gets past Andy Roddick and Federer beats Juan Martin Del Potro.

No longer does Djokovic have nothing to lose, as was the case 12 months ago. Yet he seems to be handling the pressure reasonably well, even though his finest tennis is yet to be produced at this year's event.

"I know there will always be pressure and expectation," he said. "Especially now I am a Grand Slam champion, people are looking to take you out.

"I take it as a positive thing. I want to be seen as one of the best players in the world and that means you are going to be a target."

This tournament will once again be Djokovic's best chance of winning a major, along with the other hard court Slam, the U.S. Open.

There is no question that he is a better player than last year, yet so too is Nadal and so too – having recovered from glandular fever – is a reinvigorated Federer.

Djokovic can overtake Federer and move to No. 2 in the world by repeating his triumph on Sunday evening. But the final steps on the path to the top will be the most difficult.

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