By Zoran Milosavljevic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Mountain climbing with his wife Jelena after a poor first half of the year helped Novak Djokovic rediscover his mojo to win the 2018 Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles, Serbia's world number three said on Monday.
The former world number one, who has won 14 Grand Slam titles, suffered a dramatic two-year dip in form after winning the 2016 French Open but is now brimming with confidence ahead of next week's Shanghai Masters.
"If I have to pick one moment which turned my season around, it was the aftermath of my quarter-final exit at this year's Roland Garros," he told reporters after an open practice session at his tennis complex in downtown Belgrade.
"I took four or five days off and went mountaineering with my wife. Spending that time out in the nature helped me clear my mind and put things into perspective.
"I then won titles at Wimbledon, Cincinnati and the U.S. Open and I am very grateful that I hit top form again after a difficult first half of the season following the elbow surgery."
Djokovic, who looked sharp during the two-hour session, acknowledged his comeback was unexpectedly quick.
"I had to change my game, especially my serve, as a result of the surgery. I didn’t expect to come back so quickly," he said.
"I was in the unfamiliar situation of losing more matches than I was winning early on this season and when that happens, you begin to wonder whether you’ve made the right decisions.
"Now that my confidence is back, I am hungrier than ever to win more Grand Slams.
"I had to learn to be patient. I am a different player and a different person than I was three years ago. I still believe I can repeat that 2015-2016 streak when I won four slams in a row, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t."
Djokovic is now in contention to reclaim the top spot with Masters events in Shanghai, Paris and London providing an opportunity to dislodge old rival Rafael Nadal from the summit.
After the U.S. Open success, he took part in the Laver Cup and welcomed the unique opportunity to join forces for team Europe with bitter rival Roger Federer, the winner of a record 20 Grand Slam titles.
"Federer and I got to know each other as individuals and characters and my respect for him has only grown as I got to know him better as a person for the first time in our careers," Djokovic said.
"We trained together for the first time and I learned a lot from watching his routine. Our on-tour rivalry won’t change though. It will stay as intense as ever and that’s a very good thing for tennis and all the fans."
(Reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic; Editing by Ed Osmond)