Practice? We're talking about practice?
The need for Rafael Nadal, who hasn't played a tennis match since being upset by World No. 100 Lukas Rosol about five months ago, to get in some real work before one of the four biggest tennis tournaments in the world in January would appear to be vital.
But this is Rafael Nadal we're talking about.
The 26-year-old has won 11 majors. He's been one of the three best players in the world over the past half-decade. He's a near lock for the semifinals when healthy, no matter the surface.
Preparation, timing and a lack of rust are important in tennis, but for someone with Nadal's talent, playing in a few exhibitions before the Australian Open just isn't going to make that much of a difference.
It was reported back in October that the young Spaniard would make his return to Abu Dhabi at the end of 2012, but there's simply no need for that.
Nadal's strength resides in his ability to play defense. When he has two healthy legs under him, he'll run from sideline to sideline all day, never allowing a ball to get through. He'll get to shots you thought were impossible to get to. He'll play defense until his opponent cries.
He'll run, run and run some more.
But if Nadal comes back at anything less than 100 percent, his biggest weapon is suddenly taken away from him. So, instead of playing in some meaningless warm-up tournaments, Nadal should make sure he's 100 percent before coming back.
And while we're at it, he shouldn't even rush back to the Australian Open if he isn't fully recovered.
Australia isn't one of Nadal's better majors (although he's still better there than most) and with Djokovic and Murray—two brilliant hard-court players—at the top of their games, Nadal would be a solid underdog to take home the title regardless of his health or 2013 experience.
If Nadal came back too soon and re-injured himself, thus forcing an absence at the French Open where he rules as king, it would be a much more crushing blow than simply missing a few not-as-promising tournaments because he played it safe in his recovery.
Nadal is insanely talented and he's just 26. He has a lot of titles in front of him if he stays healthy. It's not worth jeopardizing that by coming back a few weeks or even months early.
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