As the 2016 Slam Season dawns, Novak Djokovic's greatest looming competition just might be ... the 2015 Novak Djokovic.
Yes, it will be difficult to repeat such a year, after winning three Grand Slam singles titles and reaching all four major finals. A few weeks ago, seven-time major winner Mats Wilander told ESPN.com he sees a calendar-year Slam in store for the 28-year-old Serb. There is no one on the men's side, including reigning French Open champion Stan Wawrinka, who seems capable of beating Djokovic consistently in big moments.
The No. 1-ranked Djokovic is not giving in to the "invincibility" hysteria. In his pre-tournament news conference, he channeled Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and told the assembled media to, uh, relax.
"It's only the beginning of the season," Djokovic said. "It's too early to talk about what I can or can't do later in the season. I'm here to focus on Australian Open. I think, as all the players taking part in this year's first Grand Slam, I would like to do the best as I can and fight for the trophy.
"2015 was the best season and best year of my life undoubtedly. I'll try to obviously carry that confidence and high level of performance that I've had, especially towards the end of the year, into the new season. If I am able to do the same or better, like 2015, I'm not sure. Honestly, as I said, it's just the beginning."
Djokovic's first step was a convincing one. He defeated 19-year-old Hyeon Chung 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 in Melbourne on Monday for his 21st consecutive straight-sets win in an opening match at a Slam and his 10th straight Down Under.
Meanwhile, No. 3-seeded Roger Federer -- theoretically, Djokovic's opponent in the semifinals -- was even more impressive Monday. The 34-year-old Federer, who is attempting to become the oldest man to win a Grand Slam in more than four decades, needed only 72 minutes to beat Nikoloz Basilashvili 6-2, 6-1, 6-2. Federer faced only a single break point. It was also 16 years to the day that Federer played his first Australian Open match, a straight-sets victory over Michael Chang.
"I'm happy I played so well," Federer said in his on-court interview. "It was a great match. I hope I can keep it up."
It would surprise few if Federer manages to win four more matches and reach the semifinals of the draw's top half; the highest-seeded opponent in his path is No. 6 Tomas Berdych. Last year, Federer reached the final of the last two Slams (losing to Djokovic). In Melbourne, however, Federer fell in the third round to Andreas Seppi -- the first time he failed to reach the semifinals of the Australian Open in a dozen years.
The thing that continues to drive Federer is the quest for his first Slam title, and 18th overall, since winning Wimbledon in 2012. With the current dynamic, he knows that would likely have to come through Djokovic.
"If you're looking at his season, he was the most dominant player by far last year," Federer told the press before the tournament. "Novak deserves like a little star next to his name right now because he's been doing extremely well.
"Last year, I did quite well against Novak. Of course, I got to keep it up. I always believe there's new things you can learn, but there's always sometimes a way of staying motivated, staying hungry."
Federer was 3-5 versus Djokovic in 2015, but he was the only player to beat the world No. 1 multiple times.
Djokovic had to work a little harder Monday, but the result was the same. Chung, the winner of the ATP's Most Improved Player award a year ago after raising his ranking from No. 173 to the current No. 51, was making just his third appearance in a main draw at a major.
"I think physically I was really good on the court," he said. "I managed to play the best tennis when I needed to."
So far, 2016 looks a lot like 2015.