MELBOURNE, Australia — After taking three of the four majors and gaining the No. 1 ranking last season, Novak Djokovic is going for prizes beyond Grand Slams in 2012.
An Olympic gold medal, he thinks, would go nicely in his collection.
“It’s one of the biggest priorities this year, Olympic Games,” Djokovic told a news conference Saturday, only days before he starts the defense of his Australian Open title with a first-round match against Paolo Lorenzi.
“I had that privilege and honor to represent my country in 2008 Beijing Olympics. It was a remarkable experience, like no other.”
He won the Olympic bronze medal in 2008, when then No. 1-ranked Rafael Nadal won the gold. Roger Federer also has an Olympic gold medal from Beijing, although his is in doubles.
The London Olympics gold medal has extra emphasis for tennis players, given the tournament will be played at the spiritual home of the sport in Wimbledon.
“Tennis is just one of so many sports that is present in the Olympic Games, which is the most prestigious, the most valuable, the most well-known sporting event in the history of sport. That says enough,” he said.
“I’m very happy to be representing my country again and going back to the Wimbledon grass where I played in 2011, achieved one of my biggest goals. So I hope that I can play well, perform well and bring a medal to Serbia.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean he’s taking his eye off the ball at the tennis majors – he’s not discounting his chances of going one better and winning all four of them this season.
“Everything is possible,” said Djokovic, who wore a tailored suit jacket to the news conference and got straight to business. “Obviously 2011 has been the best year so far in my career. It’s going to be very difficult to repeat what I have done.”
Djokovic had a 10-1 win-loss record against Nadal and Federer in 2011. He beat Nadal in six finals and his only loss at a major was to Federer in the French Open semifinals.
He started the year with a 41-match winning streak that ended with that loss in Paris, but bounced back to win the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles.
He faded at the end of the season when nagging injuries started bothering him, and that’s when Federer swooped.
The 16-time Grand Slam winner finished off 2011 on a roll, capping it with his sixth title at the season-ending championship in London.
And although he didn’t win a major last season – ending eight consecutive years of at least one success in the Grand Slam arena – Federer is showing signs that he’s still a serious contender at age 30.
“He finished off the season best from all the other players,” Djokovic said. “He had over 15 wins in a row.
“But it’s a whole new year. It’s a whole new season. We’re starting to play outdoors. We’ll see if everybody can keep up.”
Federer hurt his back and had to withdraw during a tournament at Doha earlier this month, something he’d only had to do once before in his professional career.
He held some concern about whether he’d be fit in time for the Australian Open, where he won his last major in 2010. On Saturday, he said he’d be OK to continue his streak of playing in every Grand Slam tournament this century.
No. 3-ranked Federer opens his tournament against Russian qualifier Alexander Kudryavtsev at Rod Laver Arena on Monday night.
“Today was my first practice where I could play again at a 100 percent,” he said. “Yesterday I felt good, too. No pain. But at least, you know, I was out there playing full on, but still just a little worried or scared, let’s put it that way.
“Today all that’s gone, so I feel like I’m back to normal.”
Federer is also targeting an Olympic gold medal, but it won’t be in mixed doubles despite the pressure from the Swiss public for a Federer-Martina Hingis team in London.
Federer said the idea of winning another medal for Switzerland was appealing, but it was Hingis – winner of five singles, nine doubles and one mixed doubles title at Grand Slams – who told him in a phone call last month that it wouldn’t work. She retired, for the second time, after the 2007 season.
“She was the one to basically also tell me I should focus on winning singles and defending my doubles,” he said. “She’s very happy staying in retirement. She thinks it’s the only right thing for me to do.
“She basically took the decision for me, which was very nice of her. We were very happy I think at the end of the phone call and didn’t have any hard feelings.”