Azarenka, Djokovic play it cool

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Novak Djokovic ended his pre-Australian Open news conference Sunday the same way he ended his last meeting with the media in 2013 -- by handing out chocolates to reporters.

"It's a tradition I started," Djokovic said. "Something sweet."

Sweeter for the three-time defending champion would be to regain the No. 1 ranking he lost to Rafael Nadal last Oct. 7, continue the 24-match winning streak on which he ended the year and win his fifth Aussie Open in all.

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Defending champions Victoria Azarenka of Belarus and Novak Djokovic of Serbia would like nothing more than to cradle the Australian Open trophies again this year.

To that end, Djokovic hired six-time grand slam singles champion Boris Becker as his new coach, joining Roger Federer (Stefan Edberg) in recently adding former stars to their teams. Andy Murray is coached by Ivan Lendl, who helped guide him to 2012 US Open and 2013 Wimbledon titles.

"I'm really glad to have Boris on board," said Djokovic, who plays No. 90 Lukas Lacko in his first-round match Monday night. "Obviously, I'm glad to see there are many tennis legends coming back and being active as coaches. … It's really positive for the sport. It attracts a lot of attention."

Two-time defending women's champion Victoria Azarenka, who also addressed the media Sunday, would not mind ducking the attention she received last year when she was roundly booed by the traditionally fun-loving crowd here after her infamous medical timeout in a semifinal against Sloane Stephens.

Azarenka, who will meet Swede Johanna Larsson in her opening match, was asked if it was "unfair" that top-seeded Serena Williams, who has won five Australian Open titles but none since 2010, is still the favorite to win the tournament.

"I don't really care about it, honestly," said Azarenka, who lost to Williams in the finals at Brisbane, a run-up to Melbourne. "I never cared about it. You guys [the media] love to do that. For us, it's a matter of playing tennis and giving your best on the court."

Both Azarenka and Djokovic also claim to be unfazed by the heat that so often accompanies this tournament, with temperatures again expected to reach into the 100s.

"I actually enjoy it," Azarenka said. "I mean, not all the time probably, but it's nice to get some sun."

Another early line of questioning has involved the speed of the courts at Melbourne Park, which Nadal called the fastest he has played on in Australia.

"I think it's all about adaptation," Azarenka said. "You never play the same every day. It depends on the weather, it's how the ball is going to bounce. You just have to adapt to it."

Djokovic said the courts during practice have felt the same as last year.

"Generally speaking, the courts at all the tournaments throughout the season are slower than they used to be 15, 20, 30 years ago," he said. "Years ago, you played most of the Grand Slams on grass courts. Now you have hard courts that are slower than they used to be.

"I think it's fine having the diversity, the different speed of the court, different countries, different tournaments. It's normal to expect ."

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