24 Dec 2012

Nadal does not expect to be fully fit before March

5:37 am on 24 December 2012

The Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal does not expect to be back to full fitness and close to his competitive best until the Masters event at Indian Wells in March.

The Spanish world number four will return to action at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi in five days' time after six months out with a knee injury - but Nadal says his left knee is still not 100 percent and he plans to ease slowly back into the game.

Nadal says his goal is not this week, nor even the year-ending Doha tournament or Australia, but to get in shape and get back to feeling completely fine and completely prepared by March.

The 11-times grand-slam singles champion suffered a shock defeat to Czech Lukas Rosol in the second round at Wimbledon in June, then was diagnosed with a partial tear of the patella tendon and inflammation in his left knee and was unable to defend his Olympic title at the London Games.

Nadal also missed the US Open and the season-ending World Tour championships before returning to the practice court last month.

The first grand-slam event of 2013, the Australian Open, starts on January the 14th and the 26-year-old, who won a record seventh French Open crown in May on his favoured clay, says winning matches is not his priority over the coming weeks and he's totally focused on making sure the knee heals properly.

Nadal says he has not considered the possibility he might be forced to retire because of the latest setback, though he admits tennis is a sport that does not last forever.

He added that it's not like golf which you can play for 20 or 25 years without any problems - in tennis time is limited but he is optimistic and doesn't believe he has forgotten how to play tennis during these past months.