Djokovic revels in return to the roots of his Grand design

What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago Novak Djokovic came here as the bright young thing of men's tennis, fresh from his semi-final appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon and his Masters Series titles at Miami and Montreal. As this year's US Open got under way yesterday the 21-year-old Serb was being talked of as one of the major contenders for the New York crown, a player who knows what it takes to win a Grand Slam title.

Last year's US Open proved a turning point as Djokovic reached his first major final. His run ended in a straight-sets defeat to Roger Federer, but the scoreline did not tell the full story. Djokovic failed to take five set points in the first set and for long periods matched the Swiss blow for blow. Four months later he proved he had indeed arrived as a big-occasion player by winning the Australian Open. At this year's French Open he would have overtaken Rafael Nadal as world No 2 if he had won their semi-final.

Although an early exit to Marat Safin at Wimbledon brought a temporary halt to his progress, in recent weeks Djokovic has picked up where he had left off on his favoured hard courts. He reached the quarter-finals and final of the Masters Series events in Toronto and Cincinnati, losing to Andy Murray on both occasions, and made the semi-finals of the Olympic tournament. Nadal got the better of him over three sets in Beijing, but Djokovic went on to take the bronze medal by beating James Blake.

If the draw here has plenty of potential pitfalls, Djokovic looks more than capable of handling them. In the first round he faces a rejuvenated Arnaud Clement, who reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. His quarter of the draw also includes Andy Roddick, who skipped the Olympics to concentrate on his home Grand Slam event, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Australian Open finalist, Marin Cilic, who claimed his first ATP title when he won at New Haven on Saturday, and Safin.

Djokovic is seeded to meet Federer in the semi-finals. Nadal, who was playing his first-round match here last night against Germany's Bjorn Phau, is in the other half of the draw.

"It feels great to be back in the tournament where I did really well last year," Djokovic said. "I was really close to the title and I had some exhausting matches, but it was after this tournament that I began to feel really confident in myself. I started having more belief that I could win a Grand Slam title, which I did this year.

"Now things are quite different. As a Grand Slam winner, you have the motivation to win even more titles. I think this surface and the balls and all the conditions here in New York are suitable to my style of game and my personality. I feel well physically and I hope I can go far.

"I like the entertainment here, the show. I think Americans really know how to do it and it's really interesting for the fans as well. It's great for the players to play in the biggest stadium in our sport.

"Last year I played a couple of matches at prime time and it was one of the best feelings to step on the court and see 23,000 people stand up and applaud you. They appreciate what you're doing and they really enjoy it."

If Djokovic has a self-confidence that borders on arrogance, it is clearly a character trait that has not hindered his progress. Indeed, winning the Australian Open has made him even more convinced of his ability to take on the best. "It gives you confidence," he said.

"It gives you a belief in yourself when you find yourself in certain important moments, when you just need to come up with something good and something special and you try to be calm and hold your nerve.

"That's what happens when you have the experience of winning Grand Slams. That's why Roger and Rafa are so dominant and they look so good on the court when they have these important moments. They're really calm and know what to do. This is what I'm still trying to do – and I think I'm getting there."

Djokovic admitted that he had found the recent schedule very demanding. In the space of 10 days he flew from Cincinnati to Beijing via a brief stop at home in Belgrade, played six matches at the Olympics and then travelled here.

"You can imagine how I feel," he said. "The last couple of weeks were really exhausting."

While some players have complained of the disruption to the calendar caused by the Olympics, Djokovic relished the experience and the chance to represent his country. "It's so different," he said.

"You have top athletes from all around the world from different sports. Everybody starts from zero. There are no favourites whatsoever. Anything can happen. Just to be there is a huge achievement and to win a medal is something you remember for a lifetime."

A proud Serb, Djokovic said it had been a privilege to represent his country. "As an individual, in an individual sport, you represent yourself first, then your family and then your country. Every time you show up at a tournament you see yourself on the big screen with your name and your country up there. At the Olympics, no matter what sport you're from, you're participating in one of the greatest events and you're an ambassador for your country.

"When you show up in a big country like the United States and people see where you're from they get interested in your country. That's a great thing for us. Serbia is a small country, with just nine or 10 million people, nothing compared to the United States."

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering