Dubai: World number one Novak Djokovic`s first competitive outing since last month`s epic Australian Open final was a much more routine affair as he began the defence of his Dubai Championships title with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Cedrik-Marcel Stebe on Monday.
The last time Djokovic played he thumped his chest with delight then trudged wearily off court following his five-hour 53 minute duel against Rafa Nadal, the longest grand slam final ever played.
On a calmer day in Dubai that began with Djokovic in the crowd as a spectator watching his 20-year-old brother Marko lose to Kazakh Andrey Golubev, the Serb returned to his more clinical ways against German world number 72 Stebe.
Fans waving "Glad you`re back Novak" signs were not left disappointed as the five-times grand slam champion, chasing a fourth successive Dubai title, showed flashes of the form that has taken him to the summit of the men`s game.
"I`m happy with the first match after four weeks definitely," Djokovic told reporters.
"It`s really nice stepping out on the court and seeing a full stadium and having a lot of support. I`m very flattered."
The Serb, who chalked up a 70-6 win-loss record in 2011, refused to get carried away by all the hype surrounding him and a possible calendar grand slam plus Olympic gold in 2012.
"I`m not really comparing 2012 with 2011. I`m not comparing any year with another year," he said.
"The last year was amazing, definitely (the) best year of my career. If you ask me if I can repeat it, I don`t know. It`s going to be very, very hard obviously."
Some of Djokovic`s most likely challengers this year are in action on Tuesday with last-year`s runner-up Roger Federer, third-seeded Andy Murray, fourth seed Jo Wilfried-Tsonga and fifth seed Tomas Berdych on court for places in round two.
Already through is American eighth seed Mardy Fish, who dispatched German Andreas Beck 6-1 6-1 in less than an hour.