It was by no means the most fluent of performances but a 7-5, 6-3 victory over David Ferrer in the final of the Dubai Championships here on Saturday night meant much to Novak Djokovic.
"It's a very important title," the 21-year-old Serb said of his first tournament victory of the year. "I hadn't started the year maybe the way I wanted or the way other people were expecting me to."
Having ended a moderate second half of 2008 on a high note by winning the Tennis Masters Cup in Shanghai, Djokovic's indifferent start to the new year was highlighted when he retired with heat exhaustion in his Australian Open quarter-final against Andy Roddick. Changing his racket manufacturer has not helped and by the time he left Marseilles last weekend the world No 3 had still to play in a final this year.
The last week, however, has indicated that he might be rediscovering the form that saw him dominate the early months of last season, when he won his first Grand Slam title at the Australian Open. His best performance here was in the quarter-finals, when he condemned Marin Cilic to only his second defeat of the year, and if the final was an up-and-down affair the Serb was still too good for the Spaniard.
With a mini-sandstorm swirling around the city, the court surface was starting to look like Ferrer's favoured clay before it was swept, but it was Djokovic (below) who appeared more at home. Although the Serb will want to cut down his mistakes, his baseline game is looking in good shape. "As the season is going on, I feel more comfortable with the racket and more comfortable on the court," he said. "I try to release the pressure that I have and just play the tennis that I played in the first part of 2008."
Djokovic's schedule highlights the problems facing modern players. In the last month he has played outdoors on hard courts (in Australia), indoors (in Marseilles) and outdoors again here. He will lock horns with Ferrer again next weekend on clay in the Davis Cup in Benidorm before returning to hard courts in Indian Wells, where he is the defending champion.
"I had to come here to play, to get some matches outdoors before going to Indian Wells," he said. "I am aware of the fact that I will have a very difficult time, going to Davis Cup to play on clay, which really doesn't go in my favour for Indian Wells, but that is sport and representing your country is something special."