BRISBANE, Australia - Novak Djokovic doesn't think his first-round loss to Ernests Gulbis at the Brisbane International is any cause for panic ahead of his Australian Open title defence.
Struggling to find his rhythm with a new racket, the top-seeded Serbian was upset 6-4, 6-4 in his opening match of the season Tuesday by the 20-year-old Latvian who finished last year ranked No. 53.
"I'm not panicking. I'm not seriously a big doubt. The Australian Open is my highest goal for this part of the year," Djokovic said. "It's not the end of the world. It's the first match, so I'm still trying not to be very pessimistic."
Djokovic said the setback gives him more time to prepare for the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 19 in Melbourne. He later confirmed he'd accepted a wild-card entry for next week's Sydney International.
"Let's look on the bright side, it's only the start of the year and the biggest tournament is coming up," the 21-year-old said. "It was disappointing to lose in Brisbane but I now have another chance for more high quality matches in Sydney."
Djokovic never got on top of Gulbis with his serve. He dropped only one set as he won his first Grand Slam title at Melbourne Park last year, beating Swiss ace Roger Federer in the semifinals and Frenchman Tsonga in the final.
And he started this week with a chance to replace Federer at No. 2 in the rankings and was a hot favourite to improve to 3-0 against Gulbis, both his previous wins coming in quarter-finals last season at the French Open and at Cincinnati.
But he said he had trouble serving with a new racket - he switched from Wilson to Head this season - and that contributed to him being broken in the fifth game.
Both players dropped serve twice to open the second set before Djokovic held for a 3-2 lead, raising both arms in mock triumph when he earned a game point with an ace.
But he was soon in trouble again, dropping serve in the ninth game before Gulbis closed out at love, sealing the win in one hour 28 minutes with an ace, his fourth of the match.
"It's one of my best wins - (but) best games, I don't think so," Gulbis said. "I had some beautiful losses, so yeah, it's the best win but not my best game."
Djokovic's first serve percentage was only 48 and he was broken four times. He said he needed time to get used to the changes.
"I didn't play well. I served really, really bad and couldn't get any rhythm," Djokovic said. Gulbis "is young, he's talented and he's got nothing to lose and he used his opportunities."
The loss had other ramifications for Djokovic, who needed a successful run in Brisbane and for Federer to flop in Doha to move to a career-high No. 2 in the rankings.
"It was not playing a big role at all," Djokovic said of the rankings calculations. "It was just a matter of me playing well or not."
Second-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, who lost to Djokovic in last year's Australian Open final, beat Argentina's Agustin Calleri 6-2, 7-5 later Tuesday and is now favoured to win the inaugural Brisbane title.
Fifth-seeded Tomas Berdych of Czech Republic beat Australian Brydan Klein 6-0, 6-4, No. 7 Richard Gasquet of France beat American Taylor Dent 7-5, 6-4, and No. 4 Robin Soderling of Sweden had a 6-3, 6-3 win over Julien Benneteau in a second-round match.