DUBAI // Fame invariably comes at a heavy price. For Novak Djokovic, it has meant leaving his friends and family, and a country dear to him, and shifting home to the unobtrusive environs of Monaco.
That is where the Serbian escaped to after his second Australian Open triumph last month.
Djokovic returned to the court yesterday with a 6-3, 6-3 victory over Michael Llodra to start his title defence in Dubai, where he has won for the past two years.
"I didn't know how I was going to start the tournament after three weeks of not playing an official match," said Djokovic, who sealed the win with a thundering ace. "So I have to say I'm happy with the performance."
He said that for the first week or so after the Australian Open he spent his time resting and recharging his batteries in Monaco before he got back into training to prepare for the Dubai Championships.
"It was just a relaxing time, in the real sense of the word. I was just taking it easy, not having any physical involvement … You know, the beach, some nice walks and going around Cote d'Azur.
"For me that's a nice place. I really enjoy being there - it's very private, very clean, it's a very discrete place and I get to really rest there."
Being able to retreat to his Mediterranean hide-away has also been beneficial to his game.
"It's one of the rare places where you get good weather in the European winter," he said.
So he has been able to take advantage of the Monaco sunshine to fine-tune his game before travelling to the UAE.
"I feel quite good," he said. "I feel quite fresh and I am looking forward to the challenges. Right now, it's important for me to do well here in order to keep up the good rhythm. And then from Indian Wells on, it's very busy … It's busy up to July, Wimbledon.
"I am aware of that and that's why this period was very important to me physically to get ready."
A lack of privacy in Serbia, where he enjoys a cult-like status, was the reason for Djokovic's move to Monaco. He does go back to Belgrade to visit family and friends, and does miss his country.
"It's [privacy] one of the reasons I am not spending too much time at home in Serbia because I just don't have my private life," he said. "That's what I looked for and I found it in Monaco. I just feel great spending time there."
But he is still proud to be Serbian and even though his visits to Belgrade are fairly infrequent he said: "It's still my country, my home and I represent it everywhere I go.
"I miss a lot of things [about Serbia]. I miss the food, my family in general and my friends who are back there that I don't get to see that often … but at this moment, I prefer staying somewhere else."