More fun than ever to watch Djokovic - NBC Sports

More fun than ever to watch Djokovic
Undefeated so far in 2011, is it possible Djokovic is underappreciated?
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Heading into the Sony Ericsson Open, Novak Djokovic had won three ATP Tour titles, including the Austalian Open,ÿand compiled a perfect 18-0 record.
March 30, 2011, 3:03 pm

Novak Djokovic will lose again. He might even lose tonight; his opponent, Kevin Anderson, stopped a similar hot streak of his in Key Biscayne in 2008. But before that happens, and before we try to answer any more unanswerable questions about whether he's going to sweep all the Slams and dominate the tour for the next decade while traveling from city to city on top of a bi-plane, let's take a moment to appreciate what Djokovic has already done. We know the stats, we know the 21-match win streak; unlike Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, though, we don't hear much about Djokovic from an aesthetic point of view. Even in his current form, there's not a lot of talk about why he's worth watching. Here are five reasons that come to my mind when I see him play.

It's So Much Easier to Watch Him Serve Now
Remember the old serve? Or, I should say, remember the old serves, plural? Djokovic went through approximately one per season. What united them all, though, was the amount of effort he seemed to expend. There was a hitch in the middle that he had to fight through; there was a raspy and fatigued-sounding grunt; there was a sense that he was serving up a hill and into the court, rather flowing into the shot. Djokovic still grunts, but the sense of effort and fatigue is gone from his motion. I'm not sure if his toss is farther into the court now, or he's changed his arm position when he takes the racquet back, but he's on top of the ball now, and it's penetrating more easily.

But I wouldn't enjoy watching the new Nole serve as much if I'd never seen the old. It's rare that we get this chance with a top athlete, but more than most, Djokovic's career has been a work in progress-it's taken him awhile to streamline both his game and, from what he says, his life off the court.

He Doesn't Put You on an Emotional Roller Coaster
In the past, even when he was winning, Djokovic played with a barely buried edge of frustration. It drove him to play well on good days, but it drove him over the edge on bad days. There was always a sense that he might pull the plug at a certain point and just start smacking balls; then, when a few of those balls went in, he'd be right back to sticking his tongue in his cheek and pounding his chest. Not so anymore.

Of course this is a chicken and egg situation: If Djokovic ever plays another close match, he might be right back on the roller coaster. And the old signs of frustration did surface in his matches at Indian Wells. I used to get kick out of the dramatic Nole, but I enjoy the serene version more. There's an easy sense of purpose to the way he moves between points now, a command that's calming to see.

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Past men's singles champions at the Australian Open

/NBCSports/Components/Slideshows-NBC_sports/Tennis/Australian Open/Past men champions/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/110130_NovakDjokovic_2011_h.jpgNovak Djokovic (2011)APJohn DoneganNo. 3 Novak Djokovic secured his second career Australian Open championship with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 victory over No. 5 Andy Murray in the final. Breaking Murray seven times, Djokovic earned the title in two hours and 39 minutes. Dropping just one set all tournament (a tiebreaker in the second round), Djokovic knocked off No. 29 Viktor Troicki, No. 14 Nicolas Almagro, No. 6 Tomas Berdych and No. 2 Roger Federer in addition to No. 5 Murray to capture the title. His victory came just two months after Djokovic led Serbia to its first ever Davis Cup title./NBCSports/Components/Slideshows-NBC_sports/Tennis/Australian Open/2010/ss_100118_AustralianOpen_2010action/ss_100131_AustralianOpen_2010action_Day14/100131_RogerFederer_AustralianOpen_2010_AP_h.jpgRoger Federer (2010)APAndy WongWhat a difference one year made for Roger Federer, who was left sobbing after his 2009 loss to Rafael Nadal. In 2010, Federer was all smiles while Andy Murray shed tears. Earning his fourth Australian Open title and 16th Grand Slam championship overall, Federer beat Murray in straight sets, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (11). In the final set, Federer saved five set points for Murray before converting on his third match point./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090201_RafaelNadal_2009_h.jpgRafael Nadal (2009)APMark BakerAfter surviving the longest match in Australian Open history to reach the championship, top-ranked Rafael Nadal needed 4 hours, 23 minutes to beat Roger Federer 7-5, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-2 for the title. It was the first Grand Slam at which Nadal was ranked first, and he proved he was deserving of that top spot. The win was Nadal's fifth in seven Grand Slam finals against Federer./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_NovakDjokovic_2008_h.jpgNovak Djokovic (2008)Getty ImagesClive BrunskillOne round removed from dispatching Roger Federer in straight sets, Novak Djokovic earned the 2008 Australian Open men's singles crown with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (2) victory over surprise finalist Jo-Wilfried Tsonga. He prevailed despite dropping his first set of the tournament and battling a hamstring strain in the final set. The win marked Djokovic's first Grand Slam title./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090110_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Women/ss_090110_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Women/ss_090110_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Women-tease.jpgAustralian Open women's championsFrom Margaret Smith Court to Maria Sharapova, check out the Open era victors./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_RogerFederer_2007_h.jpgRoger Federer (2007)Getty ImagesCameron SpencerEn route to hoisting The Norman Brookes Challenge Cup for the third time in his career, Roger Federer had his most dominant Australian Open tournament in 2007. He surged to the championship without dropping a single set, the first time since 1980 that a man had accomplished that feat in a Grand Slam and the first time since 1971 that it had been done at the Australian Open. In the finals, he beat Fernando Gonzalez by a 7-6 (2), 6-4, 6-4 score./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090110_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Women/ss_090110_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Women/ss_090110_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Women-tease.jpgAustralian Open women's championsFrom Margaret Smith Court to Maria Sharapova, check out the Open era victors./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_RogerFederer_2006_v.jpgRoger Federer (2006)Getty ImagesSean GarnsworthyAfter starting slow and making an uncharacteristic number of miscues, Roger Federer rallied in the finals against Marcos Baghdatis to claim his second Australian Open championship with a 5-7, 7-5, 6-0, 6-2 victory. The win improved his record in Grand Slam singles finals to a perfect 7-0./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_MaratSafin_2005_v.jpgMarat Safin (2005)Getty ImagesRyan PierseAvenging his loss to Roger Federer in the previous year's final, Marat Safin beat Federer in the 2005 Australian Open semifinals in a thrilling five-set match that was decided by a 9-7 score in the final set. It looked like a big match hangover would ruin his chances in the subsequent championship match, as he dropped the first set 1-6 to Lleyton Hewitt and trailed 0-3 in the second, but the Russian rebounded to take the next three sets by 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 score./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_RogerFederer_2004_v.jpgRoger Federer (2004)Getty ImagesDaniel BerehulakWith his run to the championship at the 2004 Australian Open, Roger Federer earned the points he needed to supplant Andy Roddick in the world rankings. Federer beat Marat Safin 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-2 for his second career Grand Slam title, playing steady tennis in contrast to Safin's ups and downs./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_AndreAgassi_2003_h.jpgAndre Agassi (2003)Getty ImagesNick LahamEasily defeating Rainer Shuettler, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1, in the Australian Open finals, Andre Agassi became the oldest man in 31 years to win a Grand Slam singles title. He started strong, winning the match's first eight points, and never looked back. The champion in both 2000 and 2001 (as well as 1995), Agassi had to skip the Australian Open in 2002 because of a wrist injury. His run to the championship in 2003, therefore, helped him stretch his win streak in Melbourne to 21 games./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_ThomasJohansson_2002_v.jpgThomas Johansson (2002)Getty ImagesSean GarnsworthyAfter he dropped the first set in the final to No. 9 Marat Safin, championship hopes looked dim for Thomas Johansson, who was seeded 16th at the 2002 Australian Open. Instead, he rallied to pull off what was considered a major upset, becoming the lowest-ranked player since 1976 to win the title. In the decisive fourth-set tiebreak, Safin managed to save three of Johansson's match points, but his lob on the fourth drifted just out. Johansson earned a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (4) win. It was the first and only time Johansson has played in a Grand Slam final./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_AndreAgassi_2001_h.jpgAndre Agassi (2001)Getty ImagesDarrin BraybrookBlasting winners from the baseline and topping Arnaud Clement 6-4, 6-2, 6-2 in the final, Andre Agassi defended his Australian Open men's singles title in 2001. It was the first time in his career that he won back-to-back titles at a Grand Slam event. /NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_AndreAgassi_2000_v.jpgAndre Agassi (2000)Getty ImagesClive BrunskillAfter beating fellow American Pete Sampras in a high quality five-set semifinal battle, Andre Agassi earned a chance to compete for the 2000 Australian Open title and became the first male player to have reached four straight Grand Slam finals since Rod Laver in 1969. He made the most of the opportunity, topping defending champion Yevgeny Kafelnikov in four sets, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. In the championship match's final game, Agassi closed in style, serving three aces./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_YevgenyKafelnikov_1999_h.jpgYevgeny Kafelnikov (1999)Associated PressRick RycroftImproving his record in Grand Slam finals to 2-2, Yevgeny Kafelnikov won the 1999 Australian Open by a 4-6, 6-0, 6-3, 7-6 (1) score over Thomas Enqvist. After dropping the first set, Kafelnikov changed his strategy and began moving Enqvist all over the court. Kafelnikov was rewarded for his adaptability, winning nine straight games. In his post-match remarks, he thanked world No. 1 Pete Sampras for skipping the tournament due to exhaustion. Just months later, Kafelnikov claimed the No. 1 ranking but held on to that top spot for just six weeks./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_PetrKorda_1998_v.jpgPetr Korda (1998)Getty ImagesClive BrunskillFacing very little pressure from a mistake-prone Marcelo Rios in the final, Petr Korda earned his first and only Grand Slam title, 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. Korda hit 32 winners as compared with just seven from Rios. It was redemption for Korda, who had fallen to the Chilean in the first round of the previous year's Australian Open. <br/> <br/> <br/> Just a few months after his victory, Korda tested positive for nandrolone, a banned substance. He was suspended from tennis for one year and never returned to professional tennis. /NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_PeteSampras_1997_h.jpgPete Sampras (1997)Getty ImagesClive BrunskillAlthough Carlos Moya enjoyed a spectacular run in the 1997 Australian Open, becoming the first unseeded finalist in 16 years, he didn't have enough magic to top No. 1 Pete Sampras in the championship match. The American easily won, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, in a match that lasted just one hour and 26 minutes./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_BorisBecker_1996_v.jpgBoris Becker (1996)Bongarts/Getty ImagesMark SandtenThe 1996 Australian Open was the final Grand Slam title Boris Becker won in his storied career. He beat Michael Chang, 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, for his sixth Slam championship. The key to Becker's victory was his play at net; he came to net 90 times and won the point on 72 percent of those occasions./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_AndreAgassi_1995_v.jpgAndre Agassi (1995)Getty ImagesGary M. PriorAn impressive 28 aces by defending champion Pete Sampras wasn't enough to overcome Andre Agassi in the 1995 Australian Open finals, as Agassi won the tournament the first time he competed in it. The match's critical moment came in the third-set tiebreak. Sampras had two set points, but Agassi fought off both and took the breaker by an 8-6 score. He ultimately earned a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6), 6-4 victory as his speed around the court wore down a tired Sampras./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_PeteSampras_1994_h.jpgPete Sampras (1994)Getty ImagesClive BrunskillThe 1994 men's singles championship at the Australian Open featured more than just two Americans competing against each other; it also featured two close friends battling. Pete Sampras ultimately topped golfing buddy Todd Martin by a 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-4 score. The win marked Sampras' third straight Grand Slam title (he won both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open in 1993)./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_JimCourier_1993_v.jpgJim Courier (1993)AFP/Getty ImagesDavid CallowFor the second straight year, Jim Courier faced off against Stefan Edberg in the finals of the Australian Open. For the second straight year as well, he beat the Swede in four sets. The two competed in temperatures that reached 150 degrees Fahrenheit on the court, and both players were drained at the end of the 6-2, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5 match. Still, Courier played well in the championship match as well as the rest of the tournament, hitting just 31 unforced errors in his final three matches./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_JimCourier_1992_v.jpgJim Courier (1992)Getty ImagesTony FederCompeting in the finals for the third time in the previous four Grand Slam tournaments, Jim Courier won for the second time. He beat Stefan Edberg 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 for the title, using powerful groundstrokes to overpower Edberg, a serve-and-volleyer. Courier cruised to the championship match without facing a single seeded player and didn't play at all in the semifinals as his opponent, Richard Krajicek, pulled out with tendinitis of the right shoulder. <br/> <br/> <br/> Following his victory, Jim Courier ran toward the Yarra River and jumped in with his coach. Courier's coach had told him he would jumped into the river, the 18th-most polluted in the world, if Courier won, and Courier had replied that he would follow right behind. Both delivered on their promises./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_BorisBecker_1991_v.jpgBoris Becker (1991)Getty ImagesSimon BrutyBy defeating Ivan Lendl by a 1-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 score in the 1991 Australian Open men's singles final, Boris Becker not only earned the Grand Slam title but also became the world's No. 1 ranked player. Rallying after looking lethargic in the first set against the Czech, Becker came back to win and then took a victory jog through the park outside the stadium. <br/> <br/> <br/> Becker's most difficult match of the tournament came in the third round when he survived a five-hour, 11-minute five-set match./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_IvanLendl_1990_h.jpgIvan Lendl (1990)Getty ImagesGetty ImagesBecoming just the second player to retire from a Grand Slam final because of an injury, Stefan Edberg pulled out in the third set of the 1990 Australian Open finals, giving Ivan Lendl his second straight title at the tournament. Edberg had injured his abdominal muscle in the semifinals but was trying to make it through the championship. He took the first set, 4-6, from Lendl, but lost the second 7-6 (3) in a tiebreak. As he gingerly tried to get his serves in and return shots from Lendl, it became apparent to Edberg that he could not gut his way through the entire match. Trailing 2-5 in the third, he told the umpire that he was defaulting./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_IvanLendl_1989_v.jpgIvan Lendl (1989)Associated PressStephen HollandWith a 6-2, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Miloslav Mecir, Ivan Lendl earned his first Australian Open championship and regained the world's No. 1 ranking. While Lendl hit 14 aces, his opponent had difficulty on his own serve and never really challenged for the win./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_MatsWilander_1988_v.jpgMats Wilander (1988)Getty ImagesGetty ImagesIn 1988, the first year the Australian Open was played on the hardcourts of Melbourne Park, Mats Wilander earned his third Australian Open title. Wilander defeated hometown favorite Pat Cash in five tight sets, 6-3, 6-7, 3-6, 6-1, 8-6. Not only was it Wilander's fifth Grand Slam title overall, but his win also marked the fifth straight year the tournament's championship had been claimed by a Swede./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_StefanEdberg_1987_v.jpgStefan Edberg (1987)Getty ImagesMike PowellAfter taking the first two sets in the championship match against Pat Cash, Stefan Edberg looked like he had lost all energy and folded as Cash stormed back to win the third and take a 5-1 edge in the fourth. That's when the dynamic of the match changed. Cash's serve began to falter, and Edberg rallied to tie the set at 5-5. Although Cash did force a fifth set, Edberg had regained his confidence and ultimately would win the match, 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 6-3. Since the Australian Open wasn't played in 1986, the victory made Edberg successful in his 1985 title defense./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_StefanEdberg_1985_v.jpgStefan Edberg (1985)Getty ImagesTony DuffyStefan Edberg carried the momentum he garnered from a marathon five-set semifinal victory over No. 1 Ivan Lendl into the finals in 1985, soundly defeating Mats Wilander for his first Grand Slam title. Wilander had dropped just one set in the rounds leading up to the finals, but he couldn't win a single set against Edberg. Edberg beat his compatriot 6-4, 6-3, 6-3./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_MatsWilander_1984_v.jpgMats Wilander (1984)Getty ImagesHulton ArchiveAlthough No. 9 Kevin Curren had already pulled off a major upset by defeating No. 1 Ivan Lendl in the fourth round, he couldn't earn another upset in the finals of the Australian Open against No. 2 Mats Wilander. The Swede earned a 6-7, 6-4, 7-6, 6-2 victory over the American and defended the title he had secured the previous year./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_MatsWilander_1983_v.jpgMats Wilander (1983)Getty ImagesGetty ImagesIvan Lendl may have been the top seed on the grass courts at Kooyong Stadium, but he was far from the best in the finals against Mats Wilander. No. 3 Wilander, who had defeated No. 2 John McEnroe in the semifinals, soundly trounced Lendl by a 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 score to earn the championship. It was one of nine tournaments Wilander won that year./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_AustralianOpen_v.jpgJohan Kriek (1982)Associated PressRick RycroftAlthough he threatened to boycott the 1982 Australian Open when tournament officials decided to play both the third and fourth rounds on the same day because of rain, Johan Kriek ultimately remained in the tournament. His decision was a good one, as he improved his record in Grand Slam finals to a perfect 2-2 and defended his Australian Open title. Kriek topped fellow American Steve Denton by a 6-3, 6-3, 6-2 score in the championship match. /NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_JohanKriek_1981_v.jpgJohan Kriek (1981)Getty ImagesSteve PowellAfter playing in four five-setters and one four-setter, and knocking off the No. 14, No. 9 and No. 12 seeds in the process, American Steve Denton earned his spot in the finals against No. 4 Johan Kriek. Kriek's run to the finals had been easier, with five straight-set wins and one five-setter, but he did have to dispatch the No. 11, No. 8 and No. 6 seeds along the way. Kriek was too strong for Denton in the end, earning a 6-2, 7-6, 6-7, 6-4 victory over the unseeded player and claiming his first Grand Slam title./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_AustralianOpen_v.jpgBrian Teacher (1980)Associated PressRick RycroftEn route to winning the 1980 Australian Open men's singles title, Brian Teacher had to defeat Australians in the quarterfinals, semifinals and finally in the championship match. He had the easiest time of the three in the finals against Kim Warwick, picking up a 7-5, 7-6, 6-3 victory. Teacher was the first Jewish male to win a Grand Slam singles title since the 1950s. /NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_GuillermoVillas_1977_v.jpgGuillermo Vilas (1979)ASSOCIATED PRESSAnonymousGuillermo Vilas successfully defended his Australian Open title in 1979, beating John Sadri 7-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the finals. It was the third straight year the Argentine had advanced to the championship match at the tournament./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_GuillermoVillas_1975_v.jpgGuillermo Vilas (1978)Getty ImagesRoger JacksonLiving up to his billing as the top seed at the 1978 Australian Open, Guillermo Vilas earned his third overall Grand Slam title. While he faced -- and defeated -- seeded players in the third round, quarterfinals and semifinals, his opponent in the final was unseeded John Marks. Marks, who had topped No. 3 Arthur Ashe in the semifinals, gave Vilas a run for his money but couldn't pull off another upset. Vilas won, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-3./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_VitasGerulaitis_1979_v.jpgVitas Gerulaitis (December, 1977)Getty ImagesFrank TewkesburyCompeting for the second Australian Open men's singles title awarded in 1977, Vitas Gerulaitis won his only Grand Slam title. He outlasted John Lloyd in a tightly-contest December championship match, 6-3, 7-6, 5-7, 3-6, 6-2. /NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_RoscoeTanner_1979_v.jpgRoscoe Tanner (January, 1977)Getty ImagesHulton ArchiveBlessed with a big serve, Roscoe Tanner powered his way through the Australian Open field in January of 1977 and earned his only Grand Slam title. In addition to knocking off such notable players as Tony Roche, Phil Dent and Ken Rosewall, Tanner topped Guillermo Vilas in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3, in the finals. /NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_AustralianOpen_v.jpgMark Edmondson (1976)Associated PressRick RycroftMark Edmondson defeated John Newcombe in four sets, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6, 6-1, to win the title in 1976. Since then, no Australian has won the men's singles title at the tournament. Ranked 212th in the world at the time of his victory, Edmondson also holds the distinction of being the lowest-ranked player to win a major since the rankings were introduced in 1973. While he would enjoy subsequent Grand Slam doubles success (with titles in 1980, 1981, 1983 and 1984 at the Australian Open and in 1985 at the French Open), it was Edmondson's lone Grand Slam singles championship./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_JohnNewcombe_1974_v.jpgJohn Newcombe (1974)ASSOCIATED PRESSAnonymousJohn Newcombe's path to the Australian Open finals in 1975 was far from easy, as he had to endure a five-set match that included 50 games in the first round, one that spanned 56 games in the quarterfinals and one of 58 games in the semis. His championship opponent, Jimmy Connors, on the other hand, had dropped just one set en route to the finals. Still, Newcombe had enough in the tank to beat the defending champion by a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 7-5 score./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_JimmyConnors_1974_h.jpgJimmy Connors (1974)Getty ImagesVictor DreesIn the year in which he won three of four Grand Slam tournaments, Jimmy Connors started that run with an Australian Open title. He beat Phil Dent 7-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in the finals. Connors only played at the Australian Open twice, winning his first time and advancing to the finals his second./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_JohnNewcombe_1973_v.jpgJohn Newcombe (1973)APAnonymousWith an Australian tennis player facing one from New Zealand in the 1973 final, the fans Down Under were treated to a match featuring players they knew well. John Newcombe, the Aussie, beat Onny Parum 6-3, 6-7, 7-5, 6-1 to earn his first Australian Open title and fifth Grand Slam title overall. /NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_KenRosewall_1972_h.jpgKen Rosewall (1972)Getty ImagesEvening StandardIn order to avoid an ILTF ban on WCT players, the 1972 Australian Open organizers moved the event from March to the end of December, 1971. All contract and independent professionals were eligible to play, but few did because of the tournament's timing over the holidays. Rosewall was the best in a depleted field and topped Malcom Anderson 7-6, 6-3, 7-5 in the finals./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_KenRosewall_1971_h.jpgKen Rosewall (1971)Getty ImagesHulton ArchiveDespite competing against one of the most talented fields in recent years at the 1971 Australian Open, Ken Rosewall turned in his most dominant performance at the tournament. Rosewall cruised past such notable players as Roy Emerson and Tom Okker in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively, before soundly defeating Arthur Ashe in the finals. Rosewall didn't drop a single set the entire tournament./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_ArthurAshe_v.jpgArthur Ashe (1970)Getty ImagesKeystoneHe was the runner up at the Australian Championships in both 1966 and 1967, but in 1970 Arthur Ashe finally claimed his first title at the Australian Open. Ashe topped Australia's Dick Crealy in straight sets, 6-4, 9-7, 6-2, to win the second of his three overall Grand Slam titles./NBCSports/Interactives and Slideshows/Tennis/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/090107_RodLaver_1969_h.jpgRod Laver (1969)Getty ImagesPictorial ParadeKept from competing in many tournaments from when he turned professional in 1962 to the start of the Open era in 1968, Rod Laver continued his winning ways right where he left off. In 1969, for the second time in his career, Laver earned a calendar-year Grand Slam. He started that impressive stretch with a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 victory over Andres Gimeno at the Australian Open. Laver almost didn't get a chance to play in the final, as he had to overcome a tough semifinal challenge by Tony Roche first. Laver won that match, 7-5, 22-20, 9-11, 1-6, 6-3.More tennis coverageMore sports coverageMore slideshowsembss1falseall51

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Australian Open men's champions

From Rod Laver to Novak Djokovic, take a look at the Open era champions Down Under.

/NBCSports/Components/Slideshows-NBC_sports/Tennis/Australian Open/Past men champions/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/110130_NovakDjokovic_2011_640x480.jpg164048000#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.comRyan PierseGetty Images AsiaPacGetty Images2011 Getty ImagesMELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 30: Novak Djokovic of Serbia poses with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after winning his men's final match against Andy Murray of Great Britain during day fourteen of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 30, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Novak Djokovic2011 Australian Open - Day 14Strictly for editorial use only. Contact your local office for all commercial (including advertorial) and promotional uses. Use in books requires separate approval. NO LICENSING FOR CONSUMER PRINTS.Grand Slam TennisSGSE TEN SPO63256094MelbourneAustralia6343194240000000001106794659Pfalsefalse

/NBCSports/Components/Slideshows-NBC_sports/Tennis/Australian Open/Past men champions/ss_090107_AustralianOpen_pastchampions_Men/110130_NovakDjokovic_2011_1000x563.jpg1100056300#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.comRyan PierseGetty Images AsiaPacGetty Images2011 Getty ImagesMELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - JANUARY 30: Novak Djokovic of Serbia poses with the Norman Brookes Challenge Cup after winning his men's final match against Andy Murray of Great Britain during day fourteen of the 2011 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on January 30, 2011 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Novak Djokovic2011 Australian Open - Day 14Strictly for editorial use only. Contact your local office for all commercial (including advertorial) and promotional uses. Use in books requires separate approval. NO LICENSING FOR CONSUMER PRINTS.Grand Slam TennisSGSE TEN SPO63256094MelbourneAustralia6343194240000000001106794659Pfalsefalse

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He's the Ultimate in Tennis Fluidity at the Moment
Maybe it's the shiny black clothes he's been wearing. Maybe it's the white sneakers. Maybe it's because he's dropped a few pounds. But Djokovic seems to be moving with more ease than ever. Is he more fluid than Federer himself? He doesn't attack the ball when he moves forward, the way Federer does; Djokovic always seems to be cruising, but he's always there. His specialty is the side to side; from his rubber-legged flying split step to his lightning shuffle across the baseline, Djokovic often looks like he's dancing back there. It's tough to get anything by him these days.

The Long Forehand Roll and the Short Backhand Takeback
Djokovic's strokes split the difference between style and efficiency. Where Federer's are elegant and elongated, Djokovic's are compact and sleek. What I've loved during this run is the easy roll of his crosscourt forehand; he's making that shot look effortless at the moment. I've always been a fan of the Nadal inside-in forehand, where he gets it side-spinning out of his opponent's reach. But Djokovic's inside-in might be even better these days. His hapless opponents are nowhere near the thing. On the other side, I like the abbreviated backswing on the backhand. It's nothing more than what's necessary, but at the same time it's not just utilitarian-it works, but it's not workmanlike.

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Action at the 2011 Australian Open

Day 14Day 13Day 12Day 11Day 10Day 9Day 8Day 7Day 6Day 5Day 4Day 3Day 2Day 1Rally for ReliefMore tennisMore sports coverageembss2false551

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Scenes from Down Under

Check out the best images from the 2011 Australian Open.

/NBCSports/Components/Slideshows-NBC_sports/Tennis/Australian Open/2011/Day 14/110130_NovakDjokovic_640x480.jpg164048000#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.comAndrew BrownbillAPAPAP2011Serbia's Novak Djokovic makes a forehand return to Britain's Andy Murray in the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)Novak DjokovicSTENAustralian Open TennisMelbourneAUS6343194240000000001MEL142Pfalsefalse

/NBCSports/Components/Slideshows-NBC_sports/Tennis/Australian Open/2011/Day 14/110130_NovakDjokovic_1000x563.jpg1100056300#000000http://msnbcmedia.msn.comAndrew BrownbillAPAPAP2011Serbia's Novak Djokovic makes a forehand return to Britain's Andy Murray in the men's singles final at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Sunday, Jan. 30, 2011. (AP Photo/Andrew Brownbill)Novak DjokovicSTENAustralian Open TennisMelbourneAUS6343194240000000001MEL142Pfalsefalse

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He Still Wears a Shirt that Tells You His Name
Djokovic has always wanted to be the Man, even if it means forcing the issue. Even if it means having your entourage wear shirts with your face on it; speculating about moving to the U.K. to further your sponsorship opportunities; changing racquet companies so you can be the top name at Head, rather than second fiddle to Federer at Wilson. Djokovic is from a small country, and not a rich country, and he and his family have shouted to be heard.

Do you find this obnoxious? I think it's touching, because underneath the obvious desire for glory, Djokovic is a nice guy and a classy loser. I was scheduled to interview him in Rome in 2007. The interview, as these things usually are, was put off for a couple of days. Finally I was told I would get him after one of his press conferences. But when he finished, Djokovic started to walk off with a friend. Thinking it was my last chance, that the whole trip was going to be wasted, I shouted from behind him, "Novak!" It must come off as pretty rude, but he turned around and smiled, shook my hand, and said, "Oh, hey, sorry, I'll be ready in a minute." And he was.

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