Madrid: Rafael Nadal is set to play at the Mexican Open in February, although the fourth-ranked Spaniard remains intent on returning before the Australian Open.
The clay-court Mexican Open is scheduled for Feb. 25-March 2.
Toni Nadal, the player's trainer and uncle, said Nadal was focused on returning in time for an exhibition at the end of the year in Abu Dhabi as part of his preparations for the Australian Open in January.
"Just because his first confirmed event is in Acapulco does not mean he is not focusing on returning beforehand," Nadal told The Associated Press by telephone on Friday. "He plans to return this year with Australia his priority at this point."
Nadal has been sidelined with a left knee injury since a second-round loss at Wimbledon in June. He has said it was unlikely he could play for Spain in the Davis Cup final in the Czech Republic next month.
The 26-year-old has said he will likely play more clay events as his weak knees are troubled by hard-courts.
The 11-time Grand Slam champion's aggressive playing style has come at a cost as he has been beset by serious injuries since 2005, when a left foot problem put his career in doubt. He recovered from that but has had to deal with troublesome knees and an abdominal problem.
Nadal said he played with anti-inflammatories on course to winning his record seventh title at Roland Garros in May, and that he took pain-killing injections at Wimbledon.
"His training has gone well, physically and mentally he is in good shape," Toni Nadal said. "We can't put a fixed date down yet for his return but all signs are positive that he will return sooner than later."
Nadal could still return for the season-ending ATP World Tour Finals in London from Nov. 5-11 before the Nov. 16-18 Davis Cup final in Prague. But the Mubadala World Tennis Championship — where Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray and David Ferrer are confirmed — from Dec. 27-29 looks more likely.
The Australian Open, which Nadal won in 2009, starts on Jan. 14.