Rafael Nadal won't be making his triumphant return to tennis at the Australian Open, after all.
Instead, the Spaniard will be giving his fans a little treat, as he will reportedly be making his return to competitive play at the Qatar ExxonMobil Open in early January (per Tennis World USA).
Qatar ExxonMobil Open’s tournament director, Karim Alami, happily informed of Nadal’s participation at the event. Alami pointed out the fact that the Spaniard will be making his comeback after such a long layoff that everyone will have their eyes on him at this event.
First and foremost, Nadal's return to tennis is obviously good news. He's one of the "Big Four" in tennis today and his presence will permeate with both casual and hardcore fans.
However, returning to competitive play at Qatar instead of on the worldwide stage at the Australian Open is more of a smart move from Nadal, than anything else.
At the very least, Nadal's trip to Doha will serve as a test. The Qatar Open is a strong tournament that kicks off the ATP Tour schedule, meaning most of the world's best should be in attendance.
If the Spaniard advances far enough in the tournament to meet one of the top-tier players in attendance, he'll finally get the opportunity to see how far behind he is competitively.
By January, Nadal will have taken six months off. Despite his greatness, Nadal would undoubtedly go in as an underdog against any elite player, but getting to that point in the event alone is a massive boost in confidence heading into the Australian Open.
More importantly, the Qatar Open is played on a hard surface. Nadal has openly spoken in the past about his feelings on hard courts, telling the Daily Mail's Mike Dickson that he feels the surface is too hard on the body:
Hard courts are very negative for the body. I know the sport is a business and creating these courts is easier than clay or grass, but I am 100 percent sure it is wrong. I may have to play more on clay than before but there aren’t that many options.
By making his return on a hard surface, Nadal is giving himself an opportunity to see how his ailing knee feels.
If he feels discomfort at Doha, he will be able to pull out of the tournament and do so without the glare of the media coming down on him too much.
If there is no discomfort, it's full steam ahead for the 26-year-old in the 2013 season.
Had Nadal made his return at the Australian Open and been forced out with an injury, the media coverage would have been overbearing.
Instead, Qatar offers the former No. 1 player the perfect scenario. Nadal gets to return relatively under the radar, testing both his body and skills, while also getting himself ready to make a triumphant return in Australia.
It may not all work out, but by returning at Qatar instead of at a Grand Slam, Nadal has at least set himself up for rousing success.