Even with Messieurs Federer, Nadal, Murray and company circling, Novak Djokovic seriously thinks he can kick-start another 41-match winning run with a successful Australian Open title defence.
So supremely confident is Djokovic after his crazy 2011, when he went unbeaten until June and swept to 10 titles, including three slams, that the powerhouse Serb believes he can do it all again.
Maybe even eclipse what many believe was the finest season in history, given his chief rivals are already considered among the all-time greats of the game.
"My success gives me a reason to believe that I can win again. Why not?" Djokovic said as he pursues, for starters, a third Open crown at Melbourne Park.
"It doesn't make any sense to be anything other than optimistic. I need to believe in my qualities and my abilities and I need to believe that I can repeat the success.
"Of course it is going to be an incredibly difficult task to achieve, but you never know - nothing is really impossible."
Djokovic enters the season-opening major after swatting Federer aside to win the pre-Open exhibition event in Abu Dhabi.
After beginning 2011 with a crushing straight-sets Open final win over Murray, he then humbled the second-ranked Nadal in all six finals they met in last year.
Nadal, a 10-time major champion, must quickly rediscover his mojo after departing from the season-ending World Tour Finals without making the semis and confessing to having a "little bit less passion for the game".
The Spaniard's subsequent loss to Gael Monfils in Doha to open 2012 did little to restore faith among his millions of fans.
Federer, Murray and Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga will likely be feeling more confident.
Despite a back problem curtailing his Qatar campaign, Federer will carry a 20-match winning streak to Melbourne - which included a record sixth title at the year-end championships in London - plus a hunger to atone for his first slam-less year since 2002.
"To win grand slams would be nice," the Swiss ace said.
"I feel like it might be around the corner ... I'm very happy and upbeat about what's to come."
Only Djokovic bettered Murray's five trophies in 2011 and the 24-year-old Scot feels closer than ever to finally breaking through at a major after opening 2012 with success in Brisbane.
"I'm a year wiser and another year more experienced and I think I've improved a few things in my game so I'd say so," said Murray, the Open finalist for the past two years.
"I could win the tournament if I play my best."
As could Tsonga, the 2008 runner-up to Djokovic who upstaged - not for the first time - Federer and Nadal to reign in Doha.
"I tried to be more aggressive and be very competitive because against Roger, Rafa or Novak, that's what you have to do," Tsonga said.
"You have to be aggressive. I tried to do that and it worked."
AAPTags: sport, tennis, australia, vic, melbourne-3000 First posted January 12, 2012 13:43:14