What will Djokovic do for an encore?

Serbia's Novak Djokovic, who won three major titles and had a 41-match winning streak in 2011, is the defending men's singles champion at the Australian Open, which begins Sunday night in Melbourne.
Serbia's Novak Djokovic, who won three major titles and had a 41-match winning streak in 2011, is the defending men's singles champion at the Australian Open, which begins Sunday night in Melbourne. Kamran Jebreili/ AP Photo

Melbourne, Australia - Serena Williams spent time with Novak Djokovic this week, giving him pointers on how to better strike the pose of a Grand Slam champion.

After winning three of the four majors last year to break the stranglehold Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer had on men's tennis, Djokovic needs to focus on how to successfully defend a Grand Slam title before he gets too concerned with trophy presentations.

Williams knows how. The 13-time major winner has successfully defended a major title three times.

Federer and Nadal also know what it takes, but they're unlikely to give the 24-year-old Djokovic pointers about defending his Australian Open title. Besides, they have each other to worry about after being drawn Friday into the same half of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 2005.

Neither can face Djokovic until the final of the season's first major, which starts Monday (Sunday night in the U.S.) and ends with the men's championship match on Jan. 29.

Federer withdrew from a tuneup in Doha with a sore back, and Nadal has struggled with a painful shoulder that he plans to rest next month.

The casualty list in the women's draw is more extensive.

Williams sprained her left ankle last week and had to withdraw from the Brisbane International - although she says she's in great shape and is confident she'll be OK.

"The ankle is better. It's not 100 percent, but it's better than it was last week," Williams said Thursday. "I feel great. And I feel like I'm really fit. And I feel like this is definitely some of the fittest I have been in my career."

Williams missed the 2011 tournament during a prolonged injury layoff, unable to defend the title she won in 2010 and ending a stretch of six straight trips to Melbourne Park in which she won four titles and lost only twice.

Kim Clijsters, who won last year in Williams' absence, retired from her semifinal in Brisbane last week when she began having spasms in her left hip. But she's been practicing in Melbourne.

Clijsters was drawn into a tough quarter with French Open champion Li Na, whom she beat in last year's Australian final, and top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki.

Wozniacki hurt her left wrist in a quarterfinal loss at the Sydney International on Wednesday, and Maria Sharapova, the 2008 Australian champion, pulled out of a warm-up tournament and went straight to Melbourne to give her ailing ankle more time to recover.

Venus Williams and No. 10-ranked Andrea Petkovic already have ruled themselves out, while Sam Stosur is dealing with her injured pride after winning just one match in her first two tournaments on home soil since beating Williams in the U.S. Open final.

While nine of the top 10 women were playing at Sydney, Serena Williams and Clijsters were fine-tuning in Melbourne.

Djokovic is certainly getting the hang of it. He entered the 2011 Australian Open with only one major to his credit - the 2008 Australian title - but fresh from a Davis Cup victory with Serbia.

It was the beginning of a remarkable run. He won the Australian Open at the start of a 41-match unbeaten streak that lasted until he lost in the French Open semifinals to Federer. Djokovic recovered from that to beat Nadal in the Wimbledon final and again in the U.S. Open final.

He beat Nadal in all six finals in which they met in 2011, with a combination of an improved serve, some aggressive defense, a gluten-free diet and a bucket-load of confidence.

That was only enhanced when he won an exhibition tournament featuring an elite field at Abu Dhabi on New Year's Eve.

"It's very important to have high confidence coming against the top players," the Serbian said.

Djokovic won 10 titles and a record $12.6 million last year, replacing Nadal at No. 1 after Wimbledon and becoming the first player other than Federer or Nadal to finish with the top ranking since 2003. When asked if he could repeat his success in 2012, Djokovic answered with his own question: "Why not?"

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