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Rafael Nadal has suggested that he will not challenge for the Australian Open title after revealing his plans for coming back to full fitness this week.

Nadal was speaking ahead of an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi – his first appearance in six months and the first real sign that fans looking for tennis betting tips will get regarding his current fitness.

“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, suggesting we will not see an explosive return to the courts many fans were hoping for.

Indeed, Nadal is right to be cautious after suffering severe injury problems over the second half of 2012, where he missed the Olympics, US Open and Spain’s efforts in the Davis Cup. His comeback has taken time and only this month he properly began training ahead of the Australian Open, which starts 14 January.

Yet Nadal is unlikely to make much ground in Melbourne and will be lucky to progress to the second week because of his absence from competitive tennis. He will instead use the first quarter of 2013 to get used to the game again and, importantly, rest his knees on the hard courts.

For the hard surface was what ruined Nadal’s season last year. He played the longest final of 2012 – a five-hour marathon with Novak Djokovic in Melbourne – and then went on to the semis in both Indian Wells and Miami. By the time he reached clay, his knees were aching and, at Wimbledon, he lost heavily in the second round.

This year, Nadal will once again want to succeed on clay and so, for the first three months, we will see only a subdued form of his monstrous game. Expect Nadal to win Monte Carlo and Roland Garros in 2013 but nothing else, as his knees dictate his game and make hard-court tennis impossible to endure.

Despite his on-going fitness problems, Nadal remains an outside favourite in the Australian Open tennis odds, coming in at 10/1.
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