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Djokovic is fresher and wiser

sports Updated: Feb 20, 2011 08:20 IST
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic will rejoin the ATP Tour in Dubai for first time since winning last month's Australian Open - determined not to make the same mistakes as when he previously won the season's first Grand Slam title.

That was in 2008, a season during which Djokovic became exhausted by the time he got to Wimbledon, losing in the second round.

This week he has arrived in the Gulf significantly fresher, having carefully monitored his commitments on and off the court.

Three years ago Djokovic had played in the Davis Cup and the Marseille Open by the time he came to play in the lucrative Dubai tournament.

This time he withdrew from Rotterdam a fortnight ago, and begins his defence of the Dubai Open title on Tuesday or Wednesday after a potentially important three-week break.

"You become more aware of the things that you should do and not do," Djokovic said after his Melbourne triumph. "I used to spend too much energy on things I shouldn't spend it on.

"It's a school, a learning process. That's why I have a big team around me of people who are organizing my time and making me feel a bit released and making me perform the best that I can on the court."

Djokovic could be helped by the absences of Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray, which may make a route to the final less demanding and which have made Roger Federer, four times the former champion, his main rival.

A good performance by the maturing Serb might see him leapfrog Federer into the world number two ranking, for Djokovic is only 85 ranking points behind the Grand Slam record-holder.

Nadal, also a former champion here, made a decision not to enter during the off-season, perhaps indicating a deeper concern these days about the effect of the tour's schedule on his body.

Murray decided not to come just three days ago, stating on his website that he had a wrist injury. This is the second time he has disappointed the tournament, for last year he was caught in a controversy over his suggestion that he used the tournament as a form of training.

Federer is the man most likely to feel at home, for he has an apartment in Dubai, which he uses as a training base. He also participated in the tournament's iconic moment six years ago when he and Andre Agassi indulged in stunt tennis 700 feet above the sea on the Burj Al Arab helipad.

Federer may also be keen to avenge his straight set loss to Djokovic in the Australian Open semi-finals and to improve his record against one of only two players ever to beat him three times (the other is Nadal).

But even in a field without two of the front-runners there is no guarantee Federer and Djkovic will reach the final.

Among those capable of upsetting them is Tomas Berdych, who beat Federer en route to the Wimbledon final, and Mikhail Youzhny, who has been enjoying a good run in Marseille and has twice been in the final in Dubai.

Probable seeds:
1. Roger Federer (SUI); 2. Novak Djokovic (SRB); 3. Tomas Berdych (Czech republic); 4, Mikhail Youzhny (Russia); 5, Ivan Ljubicic (Croatia); 6, Marcos Baghdatis (Cyprus); 7, Ernests Gulbis (Latvia); 8, Michael Llodra (France).