'Switched-on' Djokovic sets his sights on becoming world No 1

Serbian patriot celebrates triumph at Australian Open with folk songs and a mission statement
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The Independent Online

He did not look like the outstanding athlete who had claimed his second Grand Slam title less than 15 hours earlier, but the fact that he was sitting alongside the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup confirmed that it was indeed Novak Djokovic talking at the Melbourne Cricket Ground here yesterday.

"Under the circumstances I handled myself quite well," a bleary-eyed Djokovic said, having partied into the small hours after his straight-sets victory over Andy Murray in the Australian Open final. "I couldn't really sleep because I was still under the great impression of winning a title. It was hard because of the excitement."

The celebrations, at which two musicians helped the party to belt out Serbian folk songs, were typical of the world No 3. Djokovic is a great patriot, his proudest moment having come at the end of last year when he led his country to their first Davis Cup victory. "It has been a tough period for our people," Djokovic had said on Sunday night at the presentation ceremony. "We are trying every single day to present our country in the best possible way, so this is for my country, Serbia."

Djokovic grew up in Belgrade during the Balkan Wars, though the conditions in his homeland were such that at 12 he had to go to Munich to train at the Niki Pilic Academy. Serbia is still recovering from the damage the wars did to its economy and infrastructure. "We've been growing up through two wars," Djokovic said yesterday. "When you turn around and analyse what you have been through, you appreciate some things more in your life and you know what your values are.

"Of course everybody loves their country. I don't love my country more than you love yours, but in my case it's a more special feeling because we've been through something different. So to be able to help those people who I know how much they've suffered – and they still suffer because of some problems – it's our obligation in some way to give support as best we can."

Djokovic has been through his own troubles in the three years since his first Grand Slam victory. Having failed initially to build on that triumph, he brought in Todd Martin as a coaching consultant in 2009, only to part company with him the following year when he realised the American's dual role with his long-time coach, Marian Vajda, was not working. Reaching last season's US Open final before losing to Rafael Nadal, the world No 1, was the first sign that Djokovic was getting back on track and he has not looked back since.

"Something switched in my head," Djokovic said. "I am very emotional on and off the court. I show my emotions. This is the way I am. Everybody's different. Things off the court were not working for me. It reflected on my game, on my professional tennis career. But then I settled some things in my head." He added: "In the last two months I've probably played the best tennis of my life and I cannot ask for a better start to the season."

Djokovic is within touching distance of Roger Federer, the No 2 in the world rankings list as the top three players in the game threaten to pull away from the rest.

"My goal is to be No 1 of the world and I'm doing everything in order to achieve that," Djokovic said. "If people want to call me a part of the big three, then that's great. I have big respect for Federer and Nadal. They are great examples of champions on and off the court in every sense. If I want to become the best player in the world, I will have to win more Grand Slams."

Murray would have climbed one place above Robin Soderling back to No 4 if he had won the title here. The only consolation is that he has comparatively few ranking points to defend before Wimbledon following his poor spring campaign last year.

The 23-year-old Scot said he was not concerned about the criticism he would face after his disappointing performance in the final. "Everyone can say whatever they think but I will go away and enjoy myself while they are worrying about that," he said.

"It doesn't faze me what everybody else thinks. I gave the best I could every time. I would like to have played better but I didn't. It's not an easy thing to get to a Grand Slam final. It's very, very difficult to win one as well. I know that." Did he feel desperate to put things right? "I'm not desperate to put it right. I don't think that's the right way to go about it. I want to enjoy myself away from the court, I want to enjoy myself when I am at the tournaments, I want to enjoy all the training. It's about balancing the two to make it as good and as fun as possible. The last year has been great and, hopefully, I will move on from here."