World number one Novak Djokovic revealed his fondness for the Australian Open Sunday, saying the tournament kickstarted his storied career when he won his first major in Melbourne more than a decade ago. Perhaps prompted by Andy Murray's shock announcement that this year's appearance Down Under will be his last, Djokovic allowed himself to wax nostalgic about the season-opening Grand Slam. His breakthrough came against Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2008 and he has won the title five more times since, most recently against Murray in 2016. "It was my first major trophy that obviously served as a great springboard for my career" said the Serb, who has 14 majors in the trophy cabinet. "It opened a lot of doors for me. It allowed me to believe in myself that I can actually win the biggest tournaments in the world, challenge the best players in the world."
Top seed Djokovic, who launches his campaign for a record seventh crown against American Mitchell Krueger on Tuesday, said he also enjoyed strong support from Melbourne's large Serb community. But the 31-year-old said all fans in Australia created a special atmosphere.
"They call it the Happy Slam for a reason," he said. "There's a lot of good vibe, good buzz around the city. People of Australia love sport, nurture the sport values. They love their tennis, as well."
Djokovic closed out last season magnificently, making an astonishing climb back from outside the world's top 20 in June, winning Wimbledon and the US Open on the way to reclaiming the number one ranking in November.
It was a contrast to the way he started the year in Melbourne, where a sorry last-16 exit at the hands of South Korea's Chung Hyeon was followed by elbow surgery and a string of early tournament exits.