MELBOURNE - After taking three of the four tennis majors and gaining the No. 1 ranking last season, Novak Djokovic is going for prizes beyond Grand Slams in 2012.
An Olympic gold medal, he thinks, would go nicely in his collection.
“It’s one of the biggest priorities this year, Olympic Games,’’ Djokovic said yesterday, as he prepares to defend his Australian Open title with a first-round match tomorrow against Paolo Lorenzi.
“I had that privilege and honor to represent my country in 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was a remarkable experience, like no other.’’
He won the Olympic bronze medal in 2008, when then-No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal won the gold. Roger Federer also has an Olympic gold medal from Beijing, although his is in doubles.
The London gold medal has extra emphasis for tennis players, given that the tournament will be played at the spiritual home of the sport: Wimbledon.
Of course, that doesn’t mean Djokovic is taking his eye off the ball at the majors - he’s not discounting his chances of going one better and winning all four of them this season.
“Everything is possible,’’ said Djokovic.
Djokovic had a 10-1 record against Nadal and Federer in 2011.
He faded at the end of the season when nagging injuries started bothering him, and that’s when Federer swooped.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner finished 2011 on a roll, capping it with his sixth title at the season-ending championship in London.
And although he didn’t win a major last season, Federer is showing signs that he’s still a serious contender at 30. Third-ranked Federer will open his tournament against Russian qualifier Alexander Kudryavtsev at Rod Laver Arena tomorrow night.
Serena Williams, a 13-time Grand Slam champion, approaches the Australian Open still troubled by a sprained left ankle that needs regular ice treatment. She has played two competitive matches - at the Brisbane International - since losing the US Open final in September.
But, she said with a knowing smile, “Two is plenty for me, for sure.’’
In 2007, Williams won the third of her five Australian Open titles after a similar lead-up. She missed the end of the previous season and managed three matches at the start of the year before heading to Melbourne. Her fitness was under severe scrutiny as she toiled early on, but she went on to beat Maria Sharapova in the final.
Williams, who has twice won the Australian Open without playing any warm-up tournaments, doesn’t plan on letting injuries stop her.
“I really tested my moving today for the first time [since Brisbane] so I feel a lot better with it,’’ she said. “I’ll kind of know more tonight, you know, because today is the first day I really like really, really, really pushed it.
“But overall I feel really good.’’
Williams isn’t the only one of the expected title contenders to be managing an injury. Defending champion Kim Clijsters retired in the semifinals of the Brisbane tournament with muscle spasms in her left hip. Before that, she hadn’t played since August because of an abdominal injury.
And top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki is hoping her left wrist injury will have recovered in time for her opening match.