Melbourne: Janko Tipsarevic has told how he found a way to thrive in the shadow of his imposing compatriot Novak Djokovic as he prepares for the Kooyong Classic, his final event before the Australian Open.
The court jester known as “Tipsy”, part of a strong field for the Grand Slam warm-up, said he had grown used to playing second fiddle to the world No. 1, but insisted the sport was big enough for two successful Serbs.
“I’m not only No. 2 in Serbia, I’m No. 2 in New Belgrade, where we both live,” Tipsarevic joked in Melbourne.
He added: “Novak is the best in the world and I’m aware of that. But I try not to think of the game that way.
“Tennis is big enough with prestige, monetary satisfaction and everything else for all of us who want to work hard and do what is takes to be successful.”
While Djokovic has been the form player of the last two seasons, Tipsarevic quietly put together career-best figures of 57-28 in 2012 and reached the ATP World Tour Finals for the second straight year.
The bespectacled world No. 9 has started this year in similar vein with victory at the ATP Chennai Open, finally winning the tournament after five previous attempts.
Tipsarevic is seeded third at the Kooyong Classic, where he will face Marcos Baghdatis. Tomas Berdych and Juan Martin Del Potro are the top two seeds.
The Serb described how a realisation about his career in 2011 had brought about a sea-change in his game, propelling him into the top 10 and bringing him his four ATP titles.
“About 18 months ago I changed my attitude to the game,” said Tipsarevic, 28. “I thought that four to six hours of hard work on court was enough and then your day ends.
“I discovered that tennis is a way of life, you need to breathe it every day to achieve results and become a success at the top, top level.
“When I understood that, the results started coming and I became a better player.”
Wednesday’s opening line-up pits Del Potro against French late entry Paul-Henri Mathieu, while Australian veteran Lleyton Hewitt faces big-hitting Canadian Milos Raonic.
Berdych, buoyed by the Czech Republic’s Davis Cup victory over Spain in November, plays Japan’s Kei Nishikori, a quarter-finalist at last year’s Australian Open.
“It was really big for us, winning the title after 33 years. I enjoyed the moment,” Berdych said, calling memories of the victory “the best of my career”.
“The decision to play here was last-minute, but now I can have good matches before the Open,” he said.
However, Nishikori admitted he has not hit any balls in practice since quitting this month’s Brisbane semi-final against Andy Murray with a knee injury.
“I’ve not hit since then but I’m going to try today,” said the world No. 19. “Hopefully I can play here. The knee doesn’t seem so bad now.”
Del Potro has caused a stir at home in Argentina by declining to play the Davis Cup in 2013. But the 2009 US Open champion said that decision will only be good for his game.
“Becoming No. 1 is so tough,” said the world No 7. “I worked hard in the weeks before I came here. I know it’s a long and difficult road, but I will try my best in every match.
“Not playing Davis Cup will help me to get closer to my goals.”
Meanwhile, Australian hero Hewitt is back and injury-free as he approaches his 32nd birthday, with memories fading of a second toe operation more than a year ago.
“I’m feeling good with my preparation, my movement has been great with the toe giving no problems at all,” Hewitt said.