CHRISTMAS arrived last week for Novak Djokovic, who observes the holiday on January 7 like all members of the Serbian Orthodox Church. And the best present he could have hoped for was the return home of his father Srdjan, after two months in hospital with a respiratory infection.
Srdjan was released on Friday, closing one of the more stressful chapters in his family's life. When you add his illness to the loss of Novak's grandfather Vladimir in April, the Djokovics must have felt their luck - which had run so strong ever since their eldest son first picked up a tennis racquet - had turned sour last year.
Thankfully Srdjan pulled through, despite spending several days in intensive care. Novak looked particularly concerned when he visited Belgrade the day before the Paris Masters and went to see him in hospital. Once the danger started to recede, Djokovic was able to focus on winning tournaments again - a good example of the way top sportsmen learn to compartmentalise their lives.
''It's great news, my father finally got home today after two months,'' Djokovic said. ''Hopefully his further recovery will go even better.
''What kept me very grounded is the fact I have the great support of the people around me and my family and my friends. We all tried to give as much energy and support and love to my father as we could, because he was going through a lot. Sometimes it puts things in perspective, regarding life values. It keeps you a little bit more aware of things. I just tried to be grateful for what I have.''
Djokovic's appetite for tennis is one of the qualities that has helped him climb to No.1 in the world. You would be surprised how many professionals become sick of the game that pays their bills, no matter how gilded their lifestyle might appear. But such cynicism tends to impact on performance, as practice sessions grow stale and gym training turns lazy. It is better if you can laugh your way through your preparation, as Djokovic does with his close-knit team of coach, physio and fitness trainer. Then, when it comes to match-time, he flicks a mental switch and becomes serious.
You could see it on Saturday, when he played a practice set with his compatriot and closest friend Janko Tipsarevic. And you will surely see it again on Monday, when he takes on Paul-Henri Mathieu in the first round of the Australian Open.
''It was good that we had a couple of extra weeks off this winter,'' Djokovic said, ''because I got to spend time with my parents before I arrived in Abu Dhabi for the start of the new season. I also had around 20 days with my brothers. It's not easy going day-to-day on the court and practising more or less the same things. But we are committed to our daily routine because we believe the small things matter, and they will decide the big things later. That has always been our philosophy.''