Layoff's been bittersweet

Novak Djokovic in his Djoker element at the re-opening of a Lacoste boutique in Los Angeles on Nov 7. The former world No. 1 has used the six months off the court to focus on himself, his family and other interests but is now ready for his comeback.
Novak Djokovic in his Djoker element at the re-opening of a Lacoste boutique in Los Angeles on Nov 7. The former world No. 1 has used the six months off the court to focus on himself, his family and other interests but is now ready for his comeback.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

First big injury teaches Djokovic how to take better care as Serb makes return after 6 months out

ABU DHABI • Former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic admitted on Tuesday that his six-month absence from tennis has taught him never to take his career for granted, describing his injury agony as a "roller-coaster ride".

The 30-year-old Serb has not played since Wimbledon in July when a longstanding elbow injury forced him to end his 2017 season.

As a consequence, the 12-time Grand Slam winner saw his world ranking slip to 12th, his lowest place in 10 years.

"It's been a real roller-coaster ride for me for a year and a half with this issue. I've never had surgery in my life, I've never had any major injuries that kept me away from the Tour for such a long time," Djokovic told Sport360 in Abu Dhabi.

"I never missed a Grand Slam in my career. It was a big decision, a big call to make.

"I couldn't play any more, there was no choice. It was like, that's it, you can't lift your arm."

RECHARGING THE BATTERIES

I've had an opportunity, for the first time since I started playing professional tennis, to have this much time to, first of all, relax mentally, physically, emotionally, recalibrate.

NOVAK DJOKOVIC, former world No. 1, on the injury-enforced break doing a world of good for him.

Djokovic will return to the court in Abu Dhabi at the pre-season Mubadala Championship which runs from today to Saturday.

He is then due to kick off his competitive season as the top seed at the Qatar Open next week before launching a bid for a seventh Australian Open crown.

Having added mercurial former Tour player Radek Stepanek to a coaching team spearheaded by Andre Agassi, Djokovic started practising again in Monaco only one month ago.

"I've learnt a lesson because I really want to avoid getting to that stage of an injury ever in my career after this," he added.

"And it was a great lesson to learn to be honest. It was not easy for me to be absent for so long.

"I can't wait to get back on the competition level, but it was a great experience for me to have.

"And it was a somewhat necessary experience because I got maybe too comfortable with not having major injuries."

He has made full use of his time off the court and has no regrets.

"I've had an opportunity, for the first time since I started playing professional tennis, to have this much time to, first of all, relax mentally, physically, emotionally, recalibrate, be there for my wife for the second birth, be there for our son more," Djokovic said.

"But also I could do other stuff. I had time to do some other stuff aside from tennis, some things that are attracting me a lot.

"I could dedicate my time a little bit more to my foundation, meetings and stuff like this. I'm not complaining."

Djokovic was not the only big-name player who suffered serious injuries last season. Andy Murray, Stan Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Milos Raonic are also still in doubt for the new campaign.

However, Brisbane International organisers are confident Murray will play in their tournament which starts on New Year's Day, despite media reports suggesting last week he may struggle to make that date owing to his ongoing hip problem.

The Scot will be using Brisbane as a warmup for the Australian Open which starts on Jan 15. The three-time Grand Slam winner has not played competitively since making a quarter-final exit at Wimbledon.

World No. 1 Rafael Nadal also continues to battle a worrying knee injury which saw the Spaniard pull out of the ATP World Tour Finals last month.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

MUBADALA CHAMPIONSHIP

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 28, 2017, with the headline 'Layoff's been bittersweet'. Print Edition | Subscribe