Winning three grand slams takes pressure of Novak Djokovic
With three grand slams under his belt, world number one approaches Open with less stress
Agence France-Presse in Dubai
Novak Djokovic may be the runaway world number one right now, and favourite to take away Roger Federer's title at the Dubai Open this week, but he has started this year a relieved man.
Djokovic, likely to meet Federer in Saturday's final, has been less worried by the reputation of the sport's greatest legend than by his own.
The 25-year-old Serbian's sensational spell of success in becoming a triple grand slam titleholder within one season left him feeling, he says, that he might never live up to the new image of himself which has suddenly emerged.
"I do feel relief more than when I started 2012," he said. "Following 2011 was an extreme challenge - mentally mostly.
"I found myself for the first time in the position of being number one in the world and defending a grand slam title - three in a whole year, so that was very challenging.
"So I consider finishing number one in 2012 an even bigger success than in 2011, and I feel I learned a lesson. I understand the experience I went through and I am ready for new challenges."
It was a brief relief that Djokovic was also able to focus a little on someone else's difficulties. They were those of his younger brother Marko, whom he partnered in the men's doubles.
Marko Djokovic, 21, has risen more than 200 places in the rankings since playing singles here last year, and is at 662 and rising. But he and Novak lost 4-6, 6-3, 10-4 to Nikolay Davydenko of Russia and Dick Norman of Belgium, and the burden of brotherly comparisons remains immense.
"I have to say it is hard because people compare him to me," said Novak.
"In the junior tournaments and all these years he has been playing tennis he's been compared to me when I was that age, and it's absolutely different."
Part of Djokovic's mind strays to the increased possibility, in the current absence of a fully fit Rafael Nadal, of completing a career grand slam by winning the French Open in three months.
He does, though, try to resist it. "You are always in a strong position when you win the first grand slam of the year," he said.