'Food for the soul' helps Djokovic over Australian loss
Serbia's Novak Djokovic reacts during his match against Switzerland's Stanislas Wawrinka at the 2014 Australian Open in Melbourne on January 21, 2014 - by Paul Crock
The seven-time former Grand Slam champion has relived some of his Serbian childhood memories to help overcome the pain from the loss of the Australian Open title last month.
The popular tournament here will see Djokovic's first return to the ATP Tour since that Melbourne disappointment and has already sparked a candour and an openness about his recovery.
"After the Australian Open I have done a lot of things and went to the places that I haven't seen for a long time, since my childhood," Djokovic said.
"I reconnected again with my ... period of growing up, and spent time with the family. So that's something that has given me a lot of food for the soul, if I can call it that way, and a lot of positive life energy which I can hopefully transfer to the court now."
Djokovic admits his semi-final loss to Stanislas Wawrinka in five close sets was hard to handle, which is partly why he has taken "quite a bit of time off", more than four weeks altogether.
"I have had only five matches this year, and it's going to be challenging for me to go out on the court and to find a way to play these kind of match situations," he admitted. "Because I haven't had many matches this year for sure.
"That's why I have to be extra careful because it is totally different when you get on the court and have a match in front of thousands of people," Djokovic added, emphasising that even three weeks of hard practice is no guarantee of quality or even of survival in the matches before a likely semi-final with Roger Federer, five times a former champion here.
He has been grabbing every possible practice partner in the build-up to the tournament, hoping he can re-create the feeling of real competition.
- Mental edge -
Djokovic also admitted that, in addition to the Australian Open loss, he has not converted other Grand Slam opportunities as he would have liked during the past couple of years.
Last year he lost the Wimbledon final to Andy Murray and both the US Open and French Open finals to Rafael Nadal. The year before he lost the US Open final to Murray and a Wimbledon semi-final to Federer.
"That's one of the reasons why (new coach) Boris (Becker) is here, you know," Djokovic explained.
"The big matches and Grand Slams I've felt like I have dropped two or three titles in the last two years that I could have won.
"In big matches I felt that there was that mental edge which was lacking a little bit and so hopefully Boris can contribute in this way also."
Djokovic agrees that the legendary German played the game in a very different way from himself, serving big and frequently coming to the net, but believes this is precisely why Becker's knowledge is special in this area too.
We may see clear evidence of that over the next few days, as the Dubai Open is an ideal opportunity for Djokovic to become more comfortable with a new strategy of coming forward more often.
"This is area where Boris can help, figuring out the match situation and details and the positioning on the court," Djokovic said.
Djokovic has been notably resourceful through his career, transforming fitness levels when required, and then elevating the intensity of his game.
There is therefore every reason to believe he is strong-minded and adaptable enough to make these new changes -- and perhaps to win the Dubai Open title a fifth time while making them.
There are several who might stop him. Even if he gets past Federer, there could be a final against former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, or Tomas Berdych, the former Wimbledon finalist, or Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the former Australian Open finalist, who was due to take a late flight to the Middle East after contesting the final in Marseille today.