It’s been six months since Rafael Nadal last played a tennis match, losing in the second round of the 2012 Wimbledon tournament. It’s been a long, doubtful road to recovery every since. He has got a match (exhibition) lined up for him next week, but it doesn’t mean he’s 100% certain he’s going to be fine.

This isn’t the first long term injury Nadal has sustained during his career, but it has been the longest. More than ever before, this one seemed to cast doubt among Tennis fans and even some in the Nadal camp about the future of his career, and to question if there even is a future to speak of.

But aside from all the poker commercials, Nadal worked hard at coming back. Not the same Nadal, different, at least in the start. Less tournaments, at least in the start. More rest time, especially during the hard courts season, the surface that Nadal and others think is doing the worst wear & tear job on his knees. The goal? Reaching clay season and especially the Roland Garros, the tournament he has won 7 times since 2005, at peak form and condition.

I have my doubts. It’s normal. 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. 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.

Nadal puts his faith in the hands of his doctors, and wishes for the best. A new kind of player and style? We’re not so sure. Can a player completely change his colors? Nadal’s give-it-all behavior on the courts is part of what makes him a great player, but is also part of what makes him so vulnerable to injuries. Few players are as physical in the sport of tennis, and few players rely on the ferocity and aggression as much as Nadal does when he’s playing his best tennis.

Despite losing hordes of points throughout 2012, missing the Olympics and the US Open, Nadal has dropped only to fourth in the rankings. The only crucial points he has to defend next season involve the clay tournaments, after he couldn’t win anything off his favorite surface. Expect to see him focus on the red clay even more than before, thinking more about the future and his health than ever before. When it comes down to it, it’s better to be good or great for longer than be exceptional before burning out way too soon.