ABU DHABI: Rafael Nadal will make his long-awaited return to tennis after an agonising six-month knee injury battle in the Gulf this week, but has warned he is not expecting any title-winning pyrotechnics.
The 26-year-old Spaniard joins world number one Novak Djokovic and third-ranked Andy Murray in the six-player, three-day Mubadala Championships ahead of his return to the ATP circuit at Doha from December 31.
Nadal hasn't played since his shock second round exit to 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon in June, missing the Olympics, the US Open as well as the Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic which his country lost.
Although desperate to play again, Nadal is equally keen to play down expectations.
“Abu Dhabi is a test. My goal is not this week, not Doha or the Australian Open. My goal is to get fit, recover all my feelings. The only thing I care about is the knee,” the seven-time French Open champion said.
“The idea is to go from there. I won't give much value to what will happen next month or in two months. My real goal is to start in perfect condition at Indian Wells and Miami and reach Monte-Carlo with good feelings, to face the clay season in good condition.”
Nadal, an 11-time Grand Slam title winner, has been plagued by knee injuries throughout his career, a legacy of his all-action style.
But he shrugged off any fears that despite falling to number four in the world rankings, he is no longer a threat to Djokovic, Murray and world number two Roger Federer.
“I haven't forgotten how to play. I have played over 600 ATP matches and I have spent two years without playing. My feeling is good. I won Roland Garros and those emotions are still me,” he said.
“I know I'm going to play in Abu Dhabi without the knee being great, but I feel better. The doctors say it is fine and that is great news for me. I still feel something, it's not perfect.”
Nadal insisted he is not bitter over his recent experiences.
“I have accepted it as normal, as part of my career, part of my job. It's another challenge,” he told marca.com.
“All I can do is try. But people have to realise that when you're so many months without competing you need time to progress.”
The tournament in Abu Dhabi also features world number five David Ferrer of Spain, world number six Tomas Berdych of the Czech Republic and Serb Janko Tipsarevic, the world number nine.
Nadal is expected to make his bow on Friday against either Olympic and US Open champion Murray or Tipsarevic.