Fitness the key for Nadal
Rafael Nadal claims his return to action following a seven-month lay-off is all about ensuring his knee is in good working order.
The 26-year-old reigning French Open champion has slipped down to fifth place in the world rankings following his lengthy stint on the sidelines because of a partial tear of the patella tendon and inflammation in his left knee suffered at Wimbledon last June.
Illness scuppered the Spaniard's bid to return to action before the end of 2012, but Nadal has now confirmed that he will play on his favoured clay surface in three events next month.
First up Nadal will play in the Vina del Mar, Chile, on February 4, then travel to feature in the Brazil Open in Sao Paulo from February 11 and then the Mexico Open in Acapulco from February 25.
Nadal will be well fancied to do well in all three tournaments as he will have one eye on this year's French Open, but he insists that testing his knee and regaining his full fitness is all he is thinking about.
He told reporters: "The motivation, the illusion is big, so very happy to be back in the competition but just you know, with patience to know how the knee will answer after a long time without the top level.
"The most important thing for me is the knee...that I can support the pain of the knee and then if I am able to play these three tournaments in a row I think it will work very well for me because I will have three important weeks to prepare for the rest of the season.
"I know that the first three tournaments are going to be difficult in terms of results but I am going to try everything. I will need a few weeks to see how things improve."