Spaniard Rafa Nadal is keeping his expectations low ahead of his long-awaited return to competitive action in early February after seven months out of tennis with a knee injury.
The 26-year-old French Open champion has not played since losing to Czech Lukas Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon in June due to a partial tear of the patella tendon and inflammation in his left knee.
His planned return at the end of last year was delayed due to illness and he is scheduled to play on his favoured clay at three events next month, starting in Vina del Mar, Chile, on 4 February and taking in the Brazil Open in Sao Paulo from 11 February and the Mexico Open in Acapulco from 25 February.
“I am going to play [after] a long time in a tennis tournament, professional tennis tournament, after seven months,” Nadal said after training on his home island of Majorca yesterday.
“The motivation, the illusion is big, so very happy to be back in the competition but just you know, with patience to know how the knee will answer after a long time without the top level,” he added. “The most important thing for me is the knee, that I can support the pain of the knee and then if I am able to play these three tournaments in a row I think it will work very well for me because I will have three important weeks to prepare for the rest of the season.
“I know that the first three tournaments are going to be difficult in terms of results but I am going to try everything. I will need a few weeks to see how things improve.”
Nadal’s absence deprived tennis of one of the “big four” who have dominated the sport in recent years.
During his spell on the sidelines, Serbian world No 1 Novak Djokovic won the 2012 World Tour finals and the Australian Open, No 2 Roger Federer of Switzerland won Wimbledon and third-ranked Scot Andy Murray the US Open and Olympic gold.
In the latest ATP rankings published on Monday, Nadal, who won a record seventh Roland Garros crown in May, slipped below compatriot David Ferrer to No 5.
Meanwhile, fifth seed Roberta Vinci was a second-round casualty at the Open GDF Suez in Paris after being knocked out by Mona Barthel.
Vinci needed just 52 minutes to sweep aside Simona Halep in her opening match yesterday and the Italian looked set to make further progress after winning the first set against Barthel.
However, the 22-year-old German hit back to claim victory 4-6 6-1 6-3 and she will now face third seed Marion Bartoli in the quarter-finals. French No 1 Bartoli saw off the challenge of American Christina McHale 7-5 6-1 in her second-round match.
In first-round action, sixth seed Lucie Safarova got off to a winning start but had to do it the hard way before securing a 2-6 6-1 6-1 triumph over Spaniard Lourdes Dominguez Lino.
Other first-round victors were Yanina Wickmayer, Kiki Bertens and Magdalena Rybarikova, whose 6-4 3-6 6-3 win over fellow qualifier Virginie Razzano lasted 12 minutes short of three hours.
At the Pattaya Open, rain washed out play with defending champion Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia yet to play her first round match. Organisers have rescheduled the remaining three singles matches of the first round and all the eight second round matches for today.
Top-seeded Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, whose first-round match against Ayumi Morita of Japan was suspended due to rain on Tuesday, will resume leading 6-3, 5-7, 2-1. Seventh-seeded Elena Vesnina of Russia will also resume against Greek veteran Eleni Daniilidou 6-3, 1-0. Two-time champion Hantuchova will take on Olga Puchkova of Russia to complete the first round.