Rafa Nadal is playing down his chances for the start of the new tennis season.

Rafa Nadal says he is starting “almost from zero” when he returns to the tour next year and that’s all because of the fact that he had an appendectomy. He had his appendix taken out. These days that is very minor surgery that is pretty much keyhole surgery and while there would be discomfort for a few days someone like Nadal would have been expected to bounce back pretty quickly.

The problem for the Spaniard is that he procrastinated about getting the surgery done. He should have just bitten the bullet after the Shanghai Rolex Masters and had the surgery and gotten it over with. Instead he tried to play yet another tournament, stayed on medication to alleviate the situation and hoped he’d be able to play the ATP World Tour Finals, which he didn’t in the end. 

Full marks to him for trying to brave out the situation but sometimes determination can be foolish. He lost time.

He expects the likes of Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer who fought out the year-end world No.1 ranking, which Djokovic eventually got, have the leg up on him going into the new season. Yes, they most probably do, but doesn’t that raise the question about Nadal’s decision on the timing of the surgery?

It is surprising in one sense and not in another that Nadal questions how good he will be on his return. Surprising in the sense when you consider how he came back after seven months off the tour because of his knee problems as he carved a swath through the tour winning events left, right and centre. 

However, it’s not surprising he questions how quickly he returns after something like this because Rafa has a tendency to constantly play things down. It would seem like a ploy not to show confidence and to be the underdog so as not to put the focus or pressure on himself. 

“It's always a bit tough starting off after a few difficult months, without any continuity, and after the last month and half without being able to play any sport and the appendicitis,” he told Spanish newspaper AS.

“What I have to do this month is to get myself fit physically, progress my tennis as much as possible and lay the foundations to start well in Abu Dhabi (an exhibition) and in Doha. (Then) take advantage of those tournaments to recover the competitiveness that I've not had for months due to the injuries.”

One would have thought coming back from the knee problems would have been way more severe than recovering from appendicitis.

The Australian Open which starts on 19th January is Nadal’s least successful of the four majors. He has won it once (2009) compared to the French Open which he’s won nine times, Wimbledon twice and the US Open twice. He was a finalist in Melbourne in 2012 and 2014.

He added: “If you train well and you feel right physically, the process is much quicker. In a few days you pick up the speed of the ball again, the movement in the legs and, if I do good work at home and I play well at the start of the year, that could be enough to arrive in Australia well prepared.”

We will soon see.