Tennis-Djokovic is the man you have to beat again in Melbourne Park

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<pre><pre>Tennis-Djokovic is the man you have to beat again in Melbourne Park

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Gary Lineker's celebrated quote that football is a simple game in which "the Germans always win" and that can be easily adapted to tennis and the inevitable dominance of Novak Djokovic at the Australian Open.

Serbia's Novak Djokovic during the REUTERS / Edgar Su / File Photo press conference

For a tournament that was doubted by bushfire beforehand, a record-breaking eighth Grand Slam title for defending champion Serbian would hardly be a breath of fresh air for many fans in Melbourne Park.

Some may prefer when Roger Federer triumphed in the twilight of his career, or when one of the younger generations finally broke and ended the stranglehold of the Big Three, who have divided the last 12 Grand Slam titles among themselves.

Djokovic is unlikely to take care of these feelings, and if you want to believe the bookmakers, he is ready to ruthlessly smash them.

The 32-year-old may never feel the preference of fans of Federer and Spaniard Rafa Nadal, but his record of 16 Grand Slam titles is proof that tennis is not a popularity contest.

It was never as clear as last year's finale when he defeated Nadal 6-3, 6-2 and 6-3 with a devastating performance that stunned the Mallorcan and Rod Laver Arena terraces. [nL5N1ZR09L]

For Djokovic, Melbourne Park is more than just a tennis center on the banks of a cloudy river.

Over the years it has become a kind of temple for the Serbs who spoke of feeling touched by the "divine" in full flight on the blue hard courts.

On the other side of the river are Melbourne's Botanical Gardens, where Djokovic climbs a popular fig tree and communicates in peace with nature.

Djokovic has generally been reluctant to prepare before entering the Australian Open, but has been at the forefront and focus in the new season, leading Serbia to victory over Spain in Sunday's first ATP Cup final.

His keen 6-2 win over Nadal, number one in the world rankings, 7-6 (4) was a snapshot of the couple's recent rivalry as he chilled out all the answers when tested by the all-action Spaniard.

If the tournament progresses according to the points set, the couple will compete again in the final.

Nadal, the reigning French and American open champion, was planning to overthrow a rival he hadn't hit on a hard court in nearly seven years.

The 33-year-old won his only Australian Open trophy in 2009 when he wore pirate shorts and had long hair.

However, if he arrives in poor health, he may have his best chance of a second. [nL8N29D73R]

Then he would keep up with Federer's record of 20 Grand Slam titles and spark the debate over who is the "greatest" of all time.

But even at 38, the six-time champion Federer can play a role.

The number three in the world, the Swiss, has not lost to hard court against Nadal since the semi-finals of the Australian Open in 2014 and would only surprise a few if he extended the series in Melbourne.

Federer could face earlier challenging draws for hungry young talent who are not burdened by the psychological weight of the years of the Big Three beatdowns.

Among them, the fiery Russian Daniil Medvedev will want to take the next step after pushing Nadal against the wall in the US Open final. [nL8N29I1WJ]

Stefanos Tsitsipas, who won the end-of-season ATP final, will be seen in Melbourne Park, where the city's large Greek community will be right behind him.

The 21-year-old set fire to the tournament with a run to last year's semi-final, which included a brilliant fourth round of his idol Federer. [nL8N29B2CE]

Reporting by Ian Ransom; Cut by Toby Davis