The world No 4 expects to be peaking to the top levels come March - although organisers of this week's Mubadala World Championship in the capital insist he's ready to play.
Rafael Nadal not sure of ace performance in Abu Dhabi
Rafael Nadal, the former world No 1, has been around the block often enough that he does not need a translator to be understood. Not that what he said over the weekend was vague or required much interpretation.
Nadal, sidelined for six months with a tendon issue in his left knee, was effusive two weeks ago in describing his excitement at getting back on the competitive court, starting on Friday, Day 2 at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship at Zayed Sports City.
"Can't wait to get back on court in Abu Dhabi at the end of the month," he said via Twitter.
However, over the weekend, the two-time Abu Dhabi champion made it clear that fans hungering for a glimpse of him in superstar form should not expect him to play like the conquistador of old.
At least, not right away.
"My goal is not this week, or even Doha or Australia," he said of upcoming ATP events, including the season's first major next month. "My goal is to be in shape, get back to feeling completely fine and feeling completely prepared."
Like a good metal racket, his excitement is tempered.
"I think it's just about expectations," said Vickie Gunnarsson, the director of the Mubadala event. "It's going to be more about performance. He is definitely ready to play. He just doesn't want the public to think that he's in his best shape ever."
The masses surely will be watching, too.
Even in a six-man field featuring the world No 1 Novak Djokovic and the British standout Andy Murray, most eyes will be trained on Nadal, who has been beset by nagging injuries in recent years.
His hard-charging style has taken a particularly heavy tariff on his knees, and the hard-court surface at Abu Dhabi's International Tennis Centre will be the first test of his comeback since his shock defeat to Lucas Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon on June 28.
"I have my doubts. It's normal," Nadal told Canal Plus television over the weekend. "We are talking about a knee, so of course I am afraid to see how it is going respond.
"But I can only trust my doctors and believe in myself and that everything will be all right."
Nadal may be engaged in the time-honoured practice of managing expectations. If he does not expect to win a championship on Saturday, perhaps no one else should, either.
Reporters in Spain, apparently anxious about his comeback, over the weekend asked if the 11-time grand slam winner had thought about retirement from the game.
Gunnarsson said media from several countries have been awarded press credentials for the Abu Dhabi event, many of them coming to the capital to track Nadal's readiness.
In his pre-emptive strike, Nadal has said results are hardly the focal point at this stage.
"My season, my real objective, is to be in perfect condition for Indian Wells and Miami," he said, referring to events in March, "and to get to Monte Carlo [in April] with good feelings, to tackle the clay season in good shape."
On Friday, Nadal will play the winner of Thursday's first-round match pitting Murray, the world No 3 and the US Open and Olympic champion, and Janko Tipsarevic, ranked No 9.
Of Nadal's cautionary pronouncements, Gunnarsson said: "He's just thinking about people seeing him and expecting him to be at this best."
Nadal has painted the strong possibility that he will play less, not more, in an attempt to work himself into some semblance of his old form.
"I'm prepared to accept that, at the start, my knee might not respond well and I may have to take it easy, mixing periods of play and rest for the first three months," he said.
Gunnarsson, a collegiate tennis standout in the US, said the cautionary notes from the Spaniard should not come as a surprise.
"I think that's quite natural, really," she said. "I mean, he's been out since Wimbledon."
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