Meanwhile Djokovic meets whoever wins match between Raonic and Thiem in other semi-final of Abu Dhabi tournament
Rafael Nadal's return to Abu Dhabi to prepare for 2018 the 'perfect bookend' for a successful year
Rafael Nadal returning to the Mubadala World Tennis Championship to complete 2017 and begin preparations for next season provides the perfect "bookend" after an impressive year for the Spaniard.
That is the view of Greg Sproule, the managing director of IMG Middle East and North Africa, one of the organisers of the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, as the draw for the 10th staging of the tournament was announced on Tuesday.
Held at Zayed Sports City's International Tennis Stadium, the event in the UAE capital will take place December 28-30.
In the past 11 months Nadal, 31, has won the French Open and the US Open, his first major titles since 2015, as well as four other ATP tournaments to reclaim the No 1 ranking.
It represents a sharp contrast in fortunes compared to 2016 when, beset by injuries, Nadal won two events all year and cut his season short.
Nadal arrived in the UAE last December, having not played for two months and down to ninth in the world rankings.
But he played impressive tennis in Abu Dhabi, defeating Milos Raonic and David Goffin to lift the title for a fourth time to set the tone for his 2017 season.
“With the accomplishments of Rafa over the past year, and for him to come back, and this is where his season began last year, it is like a bookend, it is perfect,” Sproule said.
Nadal has a bye into the semi-final of this year’s competition, along with 12-time major winner Novak Djokovic, who will be making his return to action in Abu Dhabi having not played since Wimbledon in July due to an elbow injury.
Nadal will play the winner of the quarter-final between three-time grand slam winner Stan Wawrinka and Spain's world No 10 Pablo Carreno Busta.
Djokovic will go up against either Canadian world No 24 Raonic or Dominic Thiem, the world No 5 from Austria.
Even though Nadal and Djokovic, who has won the Mubadala crown three times, are in opposite sides of the draw, history shows that there will be no guarantee that the men with 28 majors between them will face off in the final.
Only once in the past nine events, in January 2011 when Nadal took on Roger Federer, have the top two seeded players made it through to the final.
“We did have Rafa and Roger once and that was the dream final. Rafa played exceptionally well, won two tiebreakers to win that match," Sproule said.
“But you are right. We have had Milos playing in the final [in 2016 when he lost to Nadal]. Goffin played last year. There is a sense of unpredictability going in which is great.”
Thiem and Carreno Busta are set to make their Mubadala World Tennis Championship debuts and will enter the tournament following seasons that saw both reach grand slam semi-finals - Thiem at the French Open, Carreno Busta at the US Open.
Sproule said the emergence of players like Thiem and Carreno Busta shows the new generation are starting to challenge the established stars of men's tennis.
“People who follow the game, even a little bit, are starting to see the trend of these younger players really stepping up,” he said
“They have been around Rafa and Novak for a while now. While they respect them they want their piece of the pie and so the battles go on.”