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Rafael Nadal of Spain returns in his quarter-final match against compatriot Nicolas Almagro at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday June 6, 2012. (Christophe Ena/AP)
Rafael Nadal of Spain returns in his quarter-final match against compatriot Nicolas Almagro at the French Open tennis tournament in Roland Garros stadium in Paris, Wednesday June 6, 2012. (Christophe Ena/AP)

Rafa Nadal says knee injury improving Add to ...

Rafael Nadal was on a conference call, from Spain, to talk about his health (improving); his upcoming schedule (undetermined) and oh yes, about Spain’s first-round match of the 2013 Davis Cup competition, which will be played in Canada next February.

Nadal was mostly upbeat about the state of his health, given that he hasn’t played a match since losing in the opening round of the 2012 Wimbledon tournament to an unseeded Czech, Lukas Rosol.

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In succession, Nadal had to withdraw from the Olympics, the Rogers Cup and the U.S. Open because of the slow pace of his recovery from what has become a chronic knee condition. Surgery was ruled out; instead, he’s trying to recover through rest and rehabilitation and says he expects to be able to test his knee out on a tennis court in the near future.

But when that translates into a return to competition is anybody’s guess. Spain has a Nov. 16 date to play the Czech Republic for the 2012 Davis Cup championship and Nadal has already qualified for the ATP Tour’s season-ending event in London, the Barclay’s world tour final, in December.

While not ruling out either event completely, Nadal suggested it would be “difficult” to get his game back where it needs to be in order to compete in those events.

“I will know when I feel my knee is completely without pain,” said Nadal. “I didn’t have in the past, this long period of time, outside the tennis court and outside the competition, so I can imagine, when I come back on the tennis court, I will need a period of time, to practice and to start slow and to improve more and more every day. I don’t know if that will take three weeks or if it will take a month and a half.

“Today, the most important thing is to continue with the treatment and the good feelings in my knee. When I don’t feel nothing - and I’m hoping that will happen soon - I will come back on the tennis court, and ... be ready to compete.

“I am feeling better now than in the first couple of months, which were very, very tough for me, because I feel that my knee didn’t improve in the right way. Today, is something different. The last couple of weeks, the improvement in my knee is something I can feel. That helps a lot for me - to keep working hard, and to do every day, what I have to do.”

Nadal slipped to No. 4 in the rankings this week, behind Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray, but had a sparkling 42-6 match record in 2012 before his injury. In fact, he qualified in July for the Barclays’s ATP world tour final back for the eighth consecutive year. He was the runner-up to Federer in the 2010 final and has a 9-10 record in the event.

If he can’t make it back for London, then the 2013 Australian Open looms as the next big event on the schedule, followed by a Davis Cup date against Canada. The No. 1 Canadian player, Milos Raonic, is trained by a Spanish coach, Galo Blanco, and so the Spaniards are aware that the perennial tennis minnow, playing at home, could post a greater threat than you’d otherwise think possible. Spain is the defending Davis Cup champion and winners of three of the past four events.

“Spain has a great team, but Canada, yes, has a strong team, especially on the surface they’ll have to play. Especially with Raonic, with (Vasek) Pospisil, with (Daniel) Nestor, it’s going to be a difficult confrontation for the Spanish team,” said Nadal. “I’m sure we will have a lot of respect for Canada, especially playing away.”

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