Formerly the best player in the world, Rafael Nadal is hoping he’ll make his return as early as January 2013. Some actually think he’ll show up in the Year’s end tournament in London, but when next year’s Australian Open still isn’t the clear, it’s hard to expect him to be back so soon.

What’s going to be even harder to watch or comprehend is Nadal not playing at the same level he was before, meaning he’ll no longer be one of the top players in the world, gunning for a grand slam title each time he’s out on the courts.

Nadal confirming he’ll play at Acapulco in the Mexican Open (February 2013) meant for many people that it’ll be his return date to the tour, meaning he’ll miss the 2013 Australian Open, a tournament he’s won once, reaching the final this year, losing to Novak Djokovic.

According to his uncle and coach, Toni Nadal, that is not the case.

Just because he has confirmed he’ll play in Mexico, it doesn’t mean he won’t be playing in Melbourne. In fact, Rafa’s entire focus is to be healthy for January. This might mean that we should count out his return to the tour in London, while he’s guaranteed not to play for Spain against the Czech Repbulic in the Davis Cup finals.

It’s pretty clear that it’s going to be very hard for Rafa to return to the level he showed in the past. It’s a huge challenge  but he’s ready for this challenge. He’s determined and focused on the goal, and training have been excellent so far, both physically and mentally.

With the January goal in mind, many expect Nadal to make his return to the tour in an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi, being his preparation for the Australian Open. There’s no actual timetable for his return except for the tournament in Acapulco, which is still four months away.

In any case, Nadal will be mostly focusing on Clay courts this season, maybe for the rest of his career. At 26, he’s been through too many injuries to risk it. The clay courts are easier on his knees, regardless of the fact that he’s almost unbeatable on them over the last 7 years, accumulating a 67-1 record in best of five matches on clay, losing only once throughout his career at the Roland Garros.

He hasn’t played a match since losing very early in Wimbledon, which means he’ll be more than six months out of commission next time he steps on a tennis court.  Too long to make an immediate impact, even for one of the greatest players in the history of the game. Maybe too long, and too much his body has been through, to make any kind of impact at all once he returns.

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