Novak Djokovic: The Rivalry with Rafa is something special
Djokovic and Nadal posing with their trophies in 2015 (Source: Qatar ExxonMobil Open)

Novak Djokovic returns to the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in Doha as the world number two and the reigning champion, and the Serb historically starts his year in Doha ahead of his Australian Open title defence in Melbourne and Djokovic will be chasing an unprecedented, record-breaking seventh title at the Australian Open. Usually, 14-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal participates in Doha alongside Djokovic, however, this year, Nadal has opted to participate in Brisbane for the first time instead.

Djokovic spoke to Mundo Deportivo ahead of this tournament and claims that he misses his rivalry with the Spaniard. "The rivalry with Rafa is really something special. A number of matches we played against each other, the Grand Slam finals, especially the one played at the Australian Open that lasted almost six hours. 

The 12-time Grand Slam singles champion spoke about being in the same era as his fellow "Big Four" colleagues, Roger Federer, Andy Murray and Nadal, made him improve his tennis immensely. "When I started to be a stronger player, I had to find ways to win especially against Rafa and Federer, until a few years ago I didn't know if I could dominate because they were there." The world number one Andy Murray a two-time champion in Doha in 2008 and 2009 will be trying to strengthen his lead at the top of the rankings.

"He is the world number one, a very strong player but now that Nadal and Federer are back, we can't exclude both players for their history, results and the quality of the tennis they have."

Nadal and Djokovic shake hands following their 2012 French Open final battle (Source: FameFlynet Pictures)
Nadal and Djokovic shake hands following their 2012 French Open final battle (Source: FameFlynet Pictures)

Djokovic stumbled in the second half of the 2016 ATP World Tour season that seen him surrender his world number one ranking to Murray, and the Serb struggled in the opening set of his first round match against Germany's Jan-Lennard Struff but he prevailed in straight sets to reach round two.

"It's (the) first match of the year. You never know how you're going to start. As well as you have trained in preparation and the days prior to the tournament, (it) really is different when it's competitive play when you start the official match and the crowd is there. It changes mentally. I was a bit flat on my feet but I stayed composed because I knew that, I believed that I could find the rhythm, start reading his serve better, and that's what happened. Certainly, I can play better, but it's the first match of the year. I know that I can't be at my top the very first match, but I believe that the process is right."

New additions to the coaching team

Finally, the defending champion spoke about Dusan Vemic rejoining his coaching team. "He brings a lot of calmness for sure. He's quite a calm guy but he's also somebody that understands the game very well. I've known him since I was five, six, seven years old. We grew up in the same tennis club. He was at the time the best player we had in the country. He was always treating me very friendly, always kind, helpful, always available for any pieces of advice."