Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Novak Djokovic back in Abu Dhabi in a much better place after 'roller-coaster' 12 months

The world No 1 was forced to pull out of last year's Mubadala World Tennis Championship through injury

Novak Djokovic is back in Abu Dhabi after being forced to withdraw from the 2017 Mubadala World Tennis Championship. Reem Mohammed / The National
Novak Djokovic is back in Abu Dhabi after being forced to withdraw from the 2017 Mubadala World Tennis Championship. Reem Mohammed / The National

When Novak Djokovic steps out on court on Friday to play at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, it will complete a stunning turnaround for the world No 1 after what he described as a "roller-coaster" 12 months.

Djokovic was part of the line-up for last year's tournament in Abu Dhabi, but had to withdraw, having already arrived in the UAE, thanks to a persistent elbow injury that had ruled him out of action since the 2017 Wimbledon tournament.

Yet fast forward to this weekend and the outlook is much brighter for Djokovic. Fully recovered from his elbow injury following successful surgery in February, the Serb, 31, now has 14 grand slam titles to his name after winning Wimbledon and the US Open back-to-back, and is back at the summit of the men's rankings.

"It has been an exciting 12 months," Djokovic said, when asked to sum up his feelings compared to last year.

"Twelve months ago, I was still carrying the injury of the elbow, which two months after that resulted in surgery.

"Post-surgery, I was 22 in the world, and in four or five months, I was No 1, so it has been a roller-coaster ride to be honest and I am very grateful for that."

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Djokovic had been the dominant force in men's tennis in recent years. His French Open success in 2016 saw him become only the third men's player to hold all four major titles at the same time, as well as allowing him to complete a career grand slam.

But a loss of form and the subsequent elbow injury saw him surrender the world No 1 ranking and go the whole of last year without winning a grand slam for the first time since 2010.

But a run of success, which started with his fourth Wimbledon crown in July, set up a scintillating second half of 2018. He won the Masters events in Cincinnati and Shanghai, as well as a third US Open title, before he signed off the year by finishing as runner-up at the ATP Tour Finals in London.

Djokovic's renaissance to the ATP rankings summit also created history. No player had ever before been as low as Djokovic (22) in a calendar year and ended it as world No 1, sending out a strong statement to his rivals, not least Rafael Nadal, the man he usurped.

Djokovic said overcoming adversity to get back to winning grand slams had helped him grow as a person.

"This season has taught myself a lot about myself as a tennis player and as a person," he said. "I had to really dig deep in every sense to really try switch tables in my favour in terms of tennis.

"I had to really understand my game from every aspect to get to where I am at the moment."

Djokovic and the rest of the ATP Tour head to Melbourne in January for the Australian Open, the first major of 2019.

The city has proven a happy hunting ground for Djokovic in the past, securing his first grand slam there in 2008 and adding five more, with the most recent success in 2016.

Of his expectations for a seventh victory there, Djokovic said: "Hopefully the confidence I had from the past six months I can carry into the beginning of 2019 season."

Before that there is the business of attempting to become a four-time MWTC champion in Abu Dhabi this weekend.

Djokovic collected the title three times in a row between 2011 and 2013 and will face either Karen Khachanov or Dominic Thiem in the semi-finals, after getting a bye to the last four.

"I have had a lot of success at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in the past in my career," Djokovic said.

"It is a great way to jump start the season. It always great to see a lot of families in the stands and experience some high-quality tennis in a relaxed atmosphere."

Updated: December 27, 2018 03:58 PM

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