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Top seed Novak Djokovic all smiles despite 'terrible' draw at Rogers Cup

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TORONTO - Novak Djokovic heard the names of the players he could face in his opening match at the Rogers Cup and buried his head in his arms. The world's top men's tennis player didn't need that big of a test out of the gate.

Djokovic wasn't happy about having to see either 22nd-ranked Gael Monfils or 35th-ranked Radek Stepanek right away, and he could've done without Andy Murray being in his quarter of the draw, picked Friday afternoon at Queen's Park. But beyond his tough road that awaits at the Toronto tournament, Djokovic can't help but smile given his recent fortune.

Within the past month, the 27-year-old won Wimbledon and got married, and he and his new wife are expecting their first child soon.

"It's been probably the best month I've had in my life with Wimbledon title, with wedding and of course a baby coming up," Djokovic said. "I'm going back to the business, back to my office, but of course filled with positive energy, with joy, all the beautiful emotions that a person can experience right now. Hopefully I can use that to perform well on the tennis court."

Part of Djokovic's joy is that he's playing some of the best tennis of his career. Winning at Wimbledon and in Rome and reaching the final of the French Open at Roland Garros gave him a sizable boost of confidence.

At the Rogers Cup, which begins with qualifying rounds Saturday and Sunday while the main draw gets underway Monday, Djokovic returns to hard-court play for the first time since winning the Sony Open in Miami in March. Djokovic got to town Thursday with designs on getting some extra practice in.

"One thing is to practise, the other thing is to play an official match," Djokovic said. "I'm looking forward to the first match, even though the draw is terrible for me. Still, not my fault. Obviously that's something that I cannot influence."

Djokovic was joking throughout the draw about the difficult path he'll have to take in order to win his fourth Rogers Cup title. Murray, seeded eighth, would be his quarter-final opponent, and Djokovic would have to get through either third-seeded Stan Wawrinka or seventh-seeded Grigor Dimitrov to reach the final.

Roger Federer, whom Djokovic beat in a memorable five-set match to capture this year's Wimbledon trophy, headlines the bottom half of the draw as the second seed. Federer moved up after defending champion Rafael Nadal withdrew earlier this week because of a wrist injury.

Even without Nadal, the Rogers Cup features what Ontario's lieutenant governor, David C. Onley, called "an A-list of international tennis stars." It doesn't get more A-list than Djokovic.

"I really do wish you well in the tournament," Onley said to Djokovic. "As a Canadian, though, I'm just wishing you a little bit well in the tournament."

There are three Canadians in the field: sixth-seeded Milos Raonic, unseeded Vasek Pospisil and wild card Peter Polansky.

Raonic, who on Friday beat Steve Johnson in Washington to reach the semifinals at the Citi Open, will face either American Jack Sock or Austrian Jurgen Melzer after his first-round bye. Raonic lost to Federer in the semifinals at Wimbledon, and his game is on the rise whether his friend Djokovic likes it or not.

Djokovic joked that Raonic "can get to No. 1 as soon as I'm done with my career." He may not get his wish if Raonic's rise continues.

"He has the clear goal of what he wants to achieve and he says he wants to be the best, so there is a potential in him," Djokovic said. "He's already an established top-10 player and he's becoming a player that plays really well on the big stage."

This is yet another big stage for Raonic, who was born in Montenegro but grew up in Thornhill, Ont., just outside of Toronto.

The three Canadians got spread out throughout the 64-player bracket. Vancouver's Pospisil got a rough draw as he'll face Richard Gasquet in the first round, while Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., will face a qualifier and Polansky, also of Thornhill, will open against Poland's Jerzy Janowicz.

Seven qualifying spots will be filled this weekend.

In the meantime, Djokovic will try to get continue his sharp play with the U.S. Open not far away. Re-adjusting to being on hard courts is the first step.

"Looking at the results throughout my career, hard court is probably my most successful, most preferred surface," Djokovic said. "It's why I have always excitement for playing in events on this surface."

Djokovic has plenty of reasons to be excited, whether it's about marrying Jelena or becoming a father. It's good to be Djokovic right now.

"It's a real joyful moment, and I'm blessed to be in a position to play the sport that I love, to be successful in it now back to No. 1 and of course to be married, to become a parent soon," he said. "I can't ask for more from this life, to be honest. I try to nurture what I have and always seek to improve as a tennis player, to improve as a person and to love my wife, otherwise I'll be in trouble."

On the court, Djokovic knows it would be difficult to match 2011, when he won the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. But he still has time to make 2014 almost as successful.

"Knowing that I have achieved something like that gives me of course always confidence and I do have high ambitions and expectations for myself wherever I go," he said. "Each year brings a new challenge, and I have matured as a player and as a person. I have gotten stronger in certain aspects of my game and physically, as well."

---

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