MIAMI (AFP) - Novak Djokovic insists he is playing pain free for the first time in "years" as he pursues his comeback at the Miami Masters.
The former world number one has been beset with an elbow injury that sidelined him for six months after he was forced to retire at the quarter-finals of Wimbledon last year (2017).
A return to action at the Australian Open with a modified serving action resulted in a fourth round defeat while a limp exit at Indian Wells last week only heightened doubts that the 30 year-old would ever add to his total of 12 Grand Slams.
Yet as the Serbian star fine tuned his attempt to win in Key Biscayne for a record seventh time, he spoke of finally putting an end to the injury torment which has blighted his efforts to return to the form which saw him become the first man since the legendary Australian Rod Laver to hold all four majors at once less than two years ago.
"I actually started playing pain-free in the last two days. It's quite refreshing because everything else had pain involved," Djokovic said.
"The last few days have been first in a long, long time that I could actually be focused on the game rather than have something in my mind and be worried about whether I am going to have pain or not."
Asked by AFP to clarify his injury situation, Djokovic added: "Actually it's the first time in years (he has been injury free)."
Djokovic's physical problems have clearly affected his once seemingly impenetrable mental strength.
He swatted away a question about how he could challenge current world number one Roger Federer, the Miami Open reigning champion, preferring to concentrate on the lessons learned during the most arduous of comebacks.
"I have learned a lot about myself," he said. "It's been a great, great blessing to go through this. I've been very successful in this sport over the course of the last six, seven years and I've been very grateful to go through that.
"But I obviously have had to face different circumstances, situations that I've never faced before. Ever since I started professional tennis my trajectory was always going in the right direction and that has changed.
"So I had to open up and figure out things, how to move forward and get inspired and be the best version I can be."
EVERY DAY A PROCESS
Djokovic, who will play in the second round here on Friday, underwent a "small medical intervention" following his defeat in Melbourne and has been seen in the build up here simulating a baseball pitch to ensure his right elbow stands up to the test.
"It's one of the ways to warm up and get my body and my mind synchronised with a certain motion that I would like to have with my serve because that's where I kind of compromise my elbow," he said.
"So I'm trying to strengthen the muscles and get into a certain motion that would support the best possible serve.
"I am not yet at my best. Every day is a process for me and it's an opportunity to learn, to grow and get better after the two years of injury and trying to figure out ways how to play pain free.
"I have had to modify a lot of things in my game to accept it. When I made this intervention, obviously it's pretty invasive and unfortunately in the end it had to be done.
"It also carries certain consequences but right now, I'm not playing with the pain which is the most important thing.
"All I can do now is to try to embrace the process every day."