Rafael Nadal: Tennis Star Will Remain Top Contender Upon Return

Tim DanielsFeatured ColumnistOctober 25, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 26:  Rafael Nadal of Spain hits a forehand return during his Gentlemen's Singles first round match against Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil on day two of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 26, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The timetable for Rafael Nadal's return to competitive tennis remains fluid. He's still working his way back from lingering knee issues. With that being said, while his extended absence is worrisome, tennis fans should expect him to return to an elite level when he does come back.

Nadal told CNN Espanol his main goal right now is being ready for next season's first major, the Australian Open, in January. He didn't take himself out of consideration for the Davis Cup final next month, but wasn't confident about his chances.

About the Davis Cup final, of course I would love to take part in it, but first I have to see if I will be ready technically and physically.

We would have to ask whether I am the right choice to compete in a Spanish team that has been long preparing for this important tie considering also the months I have spent without playing. But that's a decision that it's not mine.

He has already withdrawn himself from the BNP Paribas Masters and the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, according to ATPWorldTour.com.

Nadal shouldn't rush back. He's already missed several key events, including the 2012 London Olympics, due to the injury. There's no reason to risk a setback now just to get back on the court, even though he would love to help Spain win the title.

Getting back to full strength, or as close as humanly possible after the years of relentless pounding his legs have taken, should be the only focus right now. Not any specific tournament or date.

As long as the 26-year-old superstar keeps the long-term perspective in mind, he should have no trouble establishing himself as one of the top players in the world shortly after his return.

There have been plenty of predictions about what level Nadal will play at after so much time away from the sport, and they have ranged across the spectrum. In reality, Rafa probably isn't even completely sure what to expect from himself.

The main reason fans should have confidence he can return to the top is his playing style. The basis of his game has always been effort, not talent, and that makes him a safe bet to find his form again.

Of course, Nadal has a boatload of natural talent, but the reason he's been so dominant en route to 11 major titles is his unmatched level of competitiveness. He plays every point with the same level of intensity. When that stopped happening before his hiatus, it was obvious something was wrong.

He's always going to go the extra mile to force his opponent to hit an extra shot or two. Over the course of a single match, it gives him the edge. Over the course of a career, it's clearly taken a toll on his body.

The time off should help him regroup and, most importantly, feel refreshed. After enduring the weekly grind for so many years, a chance to step away for a while should really help both physically and mentally.

Once he returns, Nadal should be the same tremendous player fans have come to expect over the years. Anything less would be a surprise.