The centre of attention, that’s where Novak Djokovic likes to be.

The wiry Serb, who often gives the impression that he’s made out of rubber, fluidly kept up with the moves of the belly dancer during the player party at the recently concluded Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. The party was on a Tuesday, between two match days, and most players had dinner, posed for sponsor photographs and made their way out. But Djokovic was happy to dance into the night. The next day, he turned up, sharp as ever, and dismissed Andrey Golubev 6-1, 6-2 in an hour.

“Must have been the dancing," Djokovic said on the job well done. “I saw most of the players leave when I arrived, because I finished the match late. I thought, why not have fun? Didn’t stay too late. I don’t know if 1am is a bit late. Well, my coach was there with me, so he definitely approved everything. Boris (Becker) showed some very agile moves on the dance floor, with his hips…that are replaced."

Humour and personality have been his tools in the popularity trade ever since he first made a mark on the tour as a teenager. The master impersonator, known for mimicking fellow players, has become a champion in his own right, taking his Grand Slam count to eight with the Australian Open win in February. Tennis, he says, was an instant love, but not the only love.

“I have different interests. Sometimes maybe too much, and my wife always tells me to try to keep it together. But we have one life, and when you are young you want to live things and learn new stuff.

Nikola Tesla is an inspiration for Novak Djokovik. Photo: Herbert Barraud/Hulton Archive/Getty Image
Nikola Tesla is an inspiration for Novak Djokovik. Photo: Herbert Barraud/Hulton Archive/Getty Image

Then there’s music and skiing and... fatherhood; no wonder Djokovic’s wife wants him to keep it together.

“I love music, I want to learn how to play the saxophone one day," Djokovic says, adding: “I was born in the mountains in Serbia and to a family of skiers. Skiing is still my biggest passion next to tennis."

The 27-year-old hails from Kopaonik, a major ski resort in erstwhile Yugoslavia. His family ran a pizza parlour on the slopes, and skiing, rather than tennis, was his first sport. Djokovic even insisted that his agent make sure that his sponsors wouldn’t put the precautionary clause against skiing into his contracts. During the course of one of the media interactions in Dubai, a journalist suggested that Serbia might have got its first skiing medal if Djokovic had stuck to the sport.

“Yeah," he responds. “But then Serbia didn’t have a Grand Slam champion before me either."

Forever playing catch-up with the genius of Roger Federer and the grit of Rafael Nadal, Djokovic burst into the cosy winners’ circle by claiming the 2008 Australian Open. His ascendancy to the throne, defined by a breakthrough run in 2011 when he won three of the four Grand Slams—the Australian Open, Wimbledon and US Open— has been one of relentless pursuit.

“Patience is a virtue," he says. “And not many people or not many players are able to have the sustained dedication, commitment to the sport. For me, it’s about having this true love and passion for the sport that I play. And day in and day out carrying that on the court. If I am able to sustain that over a longer period of time, I know results will come as a consequence of that pure emotion.

The player dancing ‘Gangnam Style’ after winning the 2012 China Open. Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images
The player dancing ‘Gangnam Style’ after winning the 2012 China Open. Photo: Feng Li/Getty Images

If the thrill of the chase was not enough, Djokovic believes that becoming a father in October has made him hungrier for success. He has the perfect ally in his coach, the former German star Becker.

“It helps to have Boris in my corner. He understands what I go through, the challenges I need to face, the obstacles I need to overcome. We have very similar careers, very similar paths. I think he became a father when he was 26-27, so we talked a lot about that part. And how that is influencing my tennis, and my career, and how you can organize your life in order to get that flow moving.

“Becoming a father gave him (Becker) a new energy. It was something that gave him that wing in the back to go out there and be even better on the court. It (being a father and playing at the highest level) is a challenge, but it is possible. We still want to achieve a lot, Boris and I.

“As a father, it is a new opportunity for me to play and perform in front of my son. That’s one of the motivations that I have. I constantly try to find new sources of motivation. It is very important because at the end of the day tennis is a very mental game," he says.

There is an intensity in his clear brown eyes when he plays or talks tennis that is all-consuming. It’s all there: the struggle, the hunger, the sheer force of will which this young nobody from Serbia needed to be better than two of the best players in history. The patience; the killer instinct. The ability to concentrate for long hours; to focus till he gets the job done.

And the humour. Every few minutes, he invariably breaks into a smile, often at a joke he’s cracked. He’s the world No.1, who hasn’t quite forgotten to be an Everyman.