If anyone was hoping to see Rafael Nadal back on the courts before the end of 2012, you’ll be disappointed. The good news, sort of, for any Nadal fan and generally tennis lovers, is that the Spaniard is setting his sights on the 2013 Australian Open as his big comeback on the ATP Tour.

Nadal hasn’t played a match since losing to Lukas Rosol in the second round of the Wimbledon Grand Slam tournament. Shortly after it was announced that he tore his patella tendon and will be out for a while. At first people thought it was just going to be the Olympic games, but later it became the North American Masters in Toronto and Cincinnati; then the US Open. Some thought he might be ready for the year’s-end tournament in London, but Nadal is preferring to take more time to rest of his knee surgery and skip over whatever’s left of the 2012 season.

There has been a lot of secrecy involving his injury, with very little leaking out from the Nadal camp regarding his future. Maybe the fears of a career ending injury were more than just a rumor, and no one was willing to guarantee a return. At 26, with his body, and especially his knees that have already been through so much, it wouldn’t have been outrageous to consider that fact that it’s over.

But Nadal will be back, hopefully, in January. Some Middle East tournament, maybe something in Australia, and off to the real deal, a Grand Slam tournament. Nadal hasn’t won a non-clay tournament since October 10, 2010, beating Gael Monfils in the Tokyo final. It’s rumored that most of his problems derive from the painful and un-healthy hard courts on the tour, so we may see him play even less on those, if that assessment is right.

Another incentive to make a return to the Australian Open is the news that a record $31.1 million will be awarded in prize money to the players, after several top players threatened to boycott the event if prize money was not increased, particularly for losers in the early rounds. For Nadal, who is an aggressive fighter for players rights, and has earned over $50 million so far in his career in prize money, it’s probably just another small incentive to make his comeback a reality in Melbourne.

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