MADRID — After a seven-month hiatus nursing a hurt knee, Rafael Nadal is wary about his upcoming return to the tennis court and believes it may be some time before he is back in top form.
“I have my doubts. It’s normal. We are talking about a knee, so of course I am afraid to see how it is going respond,” Nadal told Canal Plus television Friday. “But I can only trust my doctors and believe in myself and that everything will be all right.”
The 26-year-old Spaniard is set to play an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 27. It will be his first action since he was sidelined with tendinitis in his left knee after a second-round loss to 100th-ranked Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon in June.
The injury prevented Nadal from defending his Olympic singles gold at the London Games, where he was supposed to be Spain’s flag bearer in the opening ceremony. He also had to pull out of the U.S. Open and Spain’s Davis Cup final against the Czech Republic, which his teammates lost without him.
The 11-time Grand Slam winner and former No. 1 player said his knee had improved over the last two months after making frustratingly little progress during the summer.
Even so, he acknowledged that he may have to skip some more events to get back to full speed.
“I’m prepared to accept that at the start my knee might not respond well, and I may have to take it easy, mixing periods of play and rest for the first three months,” he said.
Nadal said that he wanted to play at Indian Wells and Miami with the goal of being completely fit by April to play at Monte Carlo, a clay-court tournament he has dominated for eight consecutive years.
The Abu Dhabi tournament features a six-man field that includes top-ranked Novak Djokovic and No. 3 Andy Murray of Britain.
EXPECTED TO PLAY AT BRISBANE:In Brisbane, Australia, Brisbane International organizers say Serena Williams still plans to compete in the Dec. 30-Jan. 5 event despite minor surgery on her big toes that forced her to withdraw from a Dec. 29 exhibition in Thailand.
Brisbane tournament director Cameron Pearson said Thursday he had been assured by Williams’ agent that the WTA player of the year will “be fit and ready” for the event at the Queensland Tennis Centre.
Williams has been affected by chronic foot problems since treading on glass and badly cutting both feet in 2010.
The five-time Australian Open winner played at last year’s Brisbane International but pulled out because of an ankle injury at the quarterfinals. Later in the year, she won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the women’s singles title in the London Olympics.
PRIZE MONEY INCREASED FOR EARLY LOSERS: In Melbourne, Australia, early-round losers at the Australian Open will receive a significant pay raise as part of what tournament organizers say is the biggest purse in tennis history.
Responding to player demands for a bigger slice of the prize money, Tennis Australia moved to avert a potential boycott of the opening Grand Slam of the year.
The 2013 singles champions at Melbourne Park in January each will collect 2.43 million in Australian dollars ($2.55 million) from a record total purse of nearly AU$31 million. First-round losers will receive AU$27,600, a 32.7 percent increase from 2012, second-round losers will get AU$45,500 (up 36.6 percent) and third-round losers will receive AU$71,000 (up 30 percent).
Prize money for the fourth round, quarterfinals and semifinals has gone up by an average of more than 14 percent.
Prize money for the three rounds of qualifying also has increased, by almost 15 percent, while first-round doubles prize money has increased more than 30 percent.
Players’ council representatives Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray had pushed for a more equitable distribution of prize money, saying it was vital for the lower-ranked players who make up the 128-entry Grand Slam draws to receive extra prize money.
“Our motivation is to make a major contribution toward helping ensure professional tennis players can make a decent living,” Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said in a statement Thursday.
“As we have said in the past, it is a real issue and needs to be urgently addressed throughout the sport. That is why the biggest increases are in the earlier rounds, qualifying and doubles which in effect rewards a lot of the lower-ranked players for their achievements which, by the way, should not be undersold.
“To just reach the main draw of a Slam, a professional tennis player has to be among the top 100 in what is one of, if not the most, competitive professional sport in the world. At the same time, we also still want to continue to recognize the incredible drawing power and contribution of the top players.”
The Australian Open will be held from Jan. 14-27.