Novak Djokovic has admitted he cannot wait to get back into the swing of things in China, a place he adores, despite the pressure of keeping a 100% record intact with an old foe ready to pounce.
The world no.1 has been absent since he failed to win the US Open, a tournament he was strongly tipped to win, but the China Open in Beijing will hold no fears and could be the perfect place to return.
Djokovic is looking for his third consecutive title in the Chinese capital and his fifth in six years. It's a record that has endeared him to the passionate home crowds. In fact it's not just Beijing that holds fond memories for the Serbian, he's also hoping for a third consecutive Shanghai Masters crown when that kicks-off next week.
Unsurprisingly the eight-time Grand Slam champion is keen to keep his local supporters happy with more domination.
“I enjoy my time in China," the 27-year-old claimed at a press conference ahead of his first encounter. "I think over the years the tournament has been growing in every sense.
“You can see that more fans are coming to support their tennis players. I have a big fan club here, teenagers especially, who come and support me, give me presents every day. That's something that makes me feel very special and encourages me to play my best tennis here.
“As soon as I arrive, I feel this generosity from the people and I feel their hospitality. That's the first kind of positive feeling that I get as soon as I'm on Chinese soil. Then the court itself and the balls and the conditions are pretty suitable to my style of the game. So for the last four, five years I've been playing some of my best tennis on the centre court.”
Djokovic will hope that his form from the North American hard-court season doesn't re-manifest itself for the Asian swing.
With his great rival and world no.2 Rafael Nadal missing due to injury and with Roger Federer suffering the ill effects of ageing, the Wimbledon winner was expected to pick up his ninth Grand Slam in easier fashion.
However, despite recovering from early Masters exits in Toronto and Cincinnati with a relatively stress-free passage through to the Flushing Meadows' latter stages, Djokovic was shocked by Kei Nishikori in the semis.
US Open shocker
The Japanese star earned a clash with fellow debutant finalist Marin Cilic, a contest which the Croatian strolled to. With both men ranked outside the top 10 at the time, Djokovic would have been kicking himself at the missed opportunity.
The world no.1 was forced to dismiss theories of a lack of focus, due to family life, in the aftermath of the shock and he'll therefore be keen to prove that he remains unaffected by an exciting time in his life. After marrying long-term partner Jelena Ristic after Wimbledon, the couple are expecting their first child in the not too distant future.
Nonetheless Djokovic says the support will come in-handy whilst he's a long way from home.
“Obviously having the support is very much necessary anywhere you go. Of course, I'm far away from my own country," he continued.
"To be able to experience the support of such proportions, and that it's growing each year, is amazing to see. I'm very grateful for that. I try to return the favour with my tennis and obviously with my kindness to these people who follow me…For me, it’s a pleasure to perform in front of the people who respect what I do.”
One of the most intriguing possibilities at the China Open is the potential renewal of battle with Nadal.
The Spaniard has overcome his troublesome wrist injury and has already admitted he is relishing a return to action.
If they do meet, it'll be the 43rd time in their careers and the first since Nadal retained the French Open to deny Djokovic of his Career Slam for the third time.
Nadal, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, just holds the edge in their head-to-head record with 23 wins, but that Roland Garros triumph ended a run of four straight wins for the man who stole his world no.1 mantle in the summer.
"If we get to play each other here, obviously it will be another big challenge for both of us,” Djokovic said of a potential battle.“Of course, I always look forward to these big matches. It's still a long way. It's his first tournament after Wimbledon. I am sure he still also is not aware of how his game is going to be on the court.
"That's something that we're all going to see. I can't really predict what his result and performance will be in this tournament. But he's definitely always one of the biggest favorites to win any tournament in the world because he's Nadal and he's a great champion."
To start their potential collision course at the China Open; Djokovic will face Guillermo Garcia-Lopez first-up while Nadal is drawn with Richard Gasquet.
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