DUBAI // Novak Djokovic proved he is a man for all seasons as he eventually adapted his powerful game from the carpets of a shivering Marseilles to the stamina-sapping heat of Dubai's hard courts with barely a moment to draw breath in between.
The world No 3 from Serbia, who will this weekend be seen on the Spanish clay of Benidorm before travelling to the US as the defending Indian Wells champion, made a slow, unimpressive start to his challenge to win a first Dubai title. By the end of the week, however, he was delighted to be the last man standing at a tournament which had been deprived for various reasons of the talents of most of the world's top 10.
Lucky to survive a marathon semi-final against France's Gilles Simon when temperatures at the two-week festival reached their peak, Djokovic, who laboured through the earlier rounds, regained his top form to take on the resurgent Spaniard David Ferrer in Saturday night's battle for the US$383,000 (Dh1.4m) first prize. Ferrer, fourth in the world a year ago but now fighting to regain a top-10 rating, had produced probably the best performance of the week on Friday night in ruthlessly sweeping aside what had looked to be a powerful semi-final rival in France's Richard Gasquet. He was powerless, though, to prevent Djokovic from claiming his 12th career title.
"This has a history of being one of the strongest events on the tour and it has been this year despite all the pull outs, so I'm delighted to have come out on top," said Djokovic after his 7-5, 6-3 triumph. "I was really proud of myself to have reached the final after so little time to prepare, so I felt I had nothing to lose because nobody is favourite in a final," he said. Not that he ever looked like losing. He knows he should not have been detained for long as 97 minutes by Ferrer after twice surrendering the advantage of a service break in the opening set.
Despite the experience of winning his first grand slam title and the Tennis Masters Cup last year, Djokovic, 21, admitted to being emotional as he clinched his first title of 2009 in front of a capacity 5,000 Dubai crowd. "I really try to enjoy every single victory I make, because I'm still young," he said. "The whole world is playing this sport, and to be No 3 in the world is a big success. "So I am satisfied with what I am doing while still having high ambitions. Winning a grand slam at my age and a couple of other big events, it's quite good, but I think I have a quality to do more.
"This is a very important success for me. I had not started the year the way I maybe wanted to and the way maybe the people were expecting me to." Djokovic then made a hasty retreat to board a flight to Belgrade to spend one day at home before turning his mind to this week's Davis Cup tie against the holders Spain before seeking to defend one of the six titles he won last year in California. firstname.lastname@example.org