Tennis: Djokovic plans next step to greatness

DUBAI - Novak Djokovic may have chosen an ideal place to clarify how to make use of what, he suggests, has become the happiest phase of his life.

The world number one returns to the ATP tour at one of the world's most popular tournaments, the Dubai Open, starting on Monday, after capturing his eighth Grand Slam title in Australia last month and his first as a father and a husband.

"Everything has been going in such a positive direction in my life, so I try to live these moments with, you know, all my heart," said Djokovic, who will try to ride these powerful emotions towards further success and perhaps to tennis greatness.

Winning the title a fifth time in Dubai next week, as he is favourite to do, should be a particularly pleasing experience at what the players have voted the best 500 category tournament for ten of the last 11 years.

But Djokovic wants more than that.

He wants to integrate what he learnt about himself in Melbourne to develop his game still further, with half an eye on his greatest aim, the French Open starting in May, the only Grand Slam title to have eluded him.

This is the most physical of the four majors, and one of Djokovic's most important lessons may be how to prevent phases of "feeling weak", which caused his unexpected time out during the Australian Open final - and how to deal with them if he can't.

"I don't think 20 or 30 minutes (feeling weak) is a major concern for the future," Djokovic claimed.

"On the contrary, I think that being able to bounce back from that period of 20 minutes and finish the match the way I finished it can only serve as an encouraging fact."

However it may well be a concern, not least because Djokovic modified his game in order to cope.

"I started hitting the ball and trying to be a bit more aggressive coming to the net, shortening the points," he said.

He may seek to refine his abilities at this in Dubai, and perhaps find opportunities to smooth any rough edges on his long friendship with Andy Murray, the former Wimbledon and US Open champion.

The Scot and the Serb had contrasting views on Djokovic's mid-match cramp in the Melbourne final, Djokovic saying: "I'm not going to talk bad things about him in the press," and Murray saying: "I was disappointed with myself because I got distracted."

This prompted Pat Cash, the former Wimbledon champion, to claim that Murray "needs a good, hard look in the mirror and to get his head together."

If so it may benefit Murray mentally to face Djokovic again, though he will have to reach the final to have a chance of that, as he has landed in Roger Federer's half.

The 17-times Grand Slam champion will be trying to extend his record of Dubai titles to seven at one of his favourite venues (and a second home), and perhaps also to show detractors that he is not a faded legend.

That was one of the crueller interpretations of Federer's dispiriting loss to Andreas Seppi in Australia, which may cause him to welcome a draw which has landed the surprising Italian in his quarter once again.

However Federer starts with Mikhail Youzhny, the Russian he faced in the 2007 final and who has beaten Rafael Nadal twice here.

Djokovic has a less uncomfortable looking section, with a starter against Vasek Pospisil of Canada, with three qualifiers in his quarter, and a potential semi-final with Tomas Berdych, the former Wimbledon finalist.

The greatest uncertainty of all however might be caused if there is a continuation of gales which today covered the courts in sand, restricted visibility, and brought a postponement of the qualifying competition.