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Djokovic says his wrist is OK. He plans to start 2024 like he does most years: with an Aussie title

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — The injury update from Novak Djokovic was all good on the eve of his Australian Open title defense.

Djokovic hurt his wrist playing for Serbia in the United Cup last week, and needed treatment twice during a quarterfinal loss to Australia's Alex de Minaur.

“My wrist is good. I had time from the last match against de Minaur to my first match here to recover,” he said. “I’ve been training well. Practice sessions pain-free so far. It’s good. It’s all looking good.”

Djokovic has made it a habit to start the year with a title in Australia. He's on a 28-match winning streak at Melbourne Park, where he has won an unprecedented 10 men's singles crowns. It's a major contributor to his record 24 Grand Slam titles.

And so he feels right at home. He hosted “A Night with Novak and Friends” that drew almost a capacity crowd to Rod Laver Arena, where he got the jump on organizers by announcing he'd be playing the night match on Sunday — Day 1 of the first-ever 15-day Australian Open.

Both singles champions will play in the first of the night sessions: Djokovic's opener against qualifier Dino Prizmic will by followed by Aryna Sabalenka's first-round match against Ella Seidel.

Fourth-seeded Jannik Sinner, who beat Djokovic twice in a month late last year, including in Italy's run to the Davis Cup title, will open play on the main show court against Botic van de Zandschulp. That match will be followed by No. 8 Maria Sakkari's women's first round against Nao Hibino. Caroline Wozniacki, the 2018 champion who is returning to Melbourne Park for the first time as a mother, will open the night session on Margaret Court Arena.

The first round will be staged over three days, with organizers hoping to cut back on the late finishes across the tournament.

Djokovic won 27 of his 28 matches in Grand Slams last year, losing only the Wimbledon final to Carlos Alcaraz. He's determined to go one better than that in 2024, and would like an Olympic gold medal in Paris to go with it.

Asked Saturday if the so-called Golden Slam — all four majors plus Olympic gold — was in his reckoning for this season, Djokovic said it's no secret that he wants to win every major he contests.

“It’s no different this year,” he said. “I’m just hoping I can start the season in a way that I have been starting my seasons, most of my seasons, throughout my career: with a win here in Australia, in Melbourne. My favorite place, no doubt."

Djokovic has won four of the last five Australian titles — the only one he missed was the one he wasn't allowed to contest. He was deported from Australia on the eve of the 2022 tournament because he wasn't vaccinated for COVID-19.

That's why he considers his victory last year, capped with a straight-sets win over Stefanos Tsitsipas, his best.

“I hope that, yeah, I’m going to be able to, if not play at the level that I did last year, then be very close to that," Djokovic said, “because that was one of the best tennis levels that I’ve played, ever played.”

Alcaraz is seeded No. 2 in Australia, and so can only face Djokovic here if they both make the final. The chance to beat Djokovic on Rod Laver Arena is one the 20-year-old Spaniard would savor.

“It’s an extra motivation for me. I’m an ambitious guy. I always want to play against the best players in the world to see what is my level,” he said. “Obviously it’s a good test, playing against him in the places that he’s almost unbeaten.

“Yeah, knowing those stats, it’s an extra motivation, for sure.”

Alcaraz missed the Australian Open last year and then lost to Djokovic in the French Open semifinals before his victory at Wimbledon gave him a second career major.

Djokovic had won the title the four previous Wimbledon campaigns he'd entered.

The 36-year-old Serbian star is staying well grounded in the routines that have delivered unprecedented results at Melbourne Park.

That, he said, would include visits to the Botanical Gardens on the opposite bank of the Yarra River to Melbourne Park.

“I’m not superstitious. I do obviously like to visit certain places that have brought me luck and make me feel good,” he said. “For example, the botanical gardens, it’s a wonderful park where I like to spend time and just be by myself in nature, just grounding, hugging trees, climbing trees and stuff. I love to do that.”

He won his first Grand Slam title in Australia in 2008, and the back-to-nature concept has been a theme here ever since.

“So I’ve done that for, yeah, last 15 years,” he said. “Whether that’s secret of success here in Australia or not, I don’t know, but it has definitely made me feel good.”

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AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis