DOHA (AFP) - World number one Rafael Nadal has had new treatment on his troublesome knees which could help him complete a full season on the ATP Tour for the first time since 2011.
The 27-year-old Spaniard also believes that it may prolong his career, but admits that the delay in restarting work during the off season has reduced his chances of regaining the Australian Open title in two weeks time.
Although Nadal would not say precisely what had been done to the semi-permanent injuries, he volunteered only that it was "different" and that he is hopeful about a healthier 2014.
Nadal missed all of the second half of 2012 as well as the first Grand Slam of 2013, in Australia, prompting many predictions that he would never be a world-beater again.
Though he proved these wrong, previous treatments have brought only temporary improvements, and Nadal is mindful that he has reached a crucial phase of his career if he is to fulfil his talent completely.
"I feel that this one really makes me feel more comfortable," he said, when asked what the treatment was. "Because I don't have pain like I had, no? "It is true that (in 2013) I played a lot of days with anti-inflammatories.
But I was able to compete very well once I started. That was my goal and so I was very happy about everything."
However, in 2014 Nadal is hoping anti-inflammatories won't be needed so much.
In previous off-seasons he had plasma-rich platelets injected into his knees, but it seems likely that now he has had different kind of injections.
"With this last treatment I feel more comfortable on my knee during the rest of the day," he said. "I feel that I can have a more normal life than I had during the last year and a half, because then I was playing tennis, and the rest of the time just relaxed.
"Although I played good I was not able to enjoy myself practising other sports outside of tennis. For me, that's a very important part of my life. It is true that I am a professional tennis player, but I feel more happy when I am able to do different things."
Even now, though, limitations remain. Though Nadal claims he can comfortably kick a football, he admits he will not play a football match, one of his great loves.
"I haven't played football for the last two years and a half," he said. "I am not confident of that yet. I love to play football more than anything else but today I feel it will not be the right decision to take risks with that, especially since the better feeling in the knees is (only) from a few weeks ago."
All this has left Nadal short of court time. Not till two and a half weeks ago did he start hitting tennis balls again, something which may influence what happens in the first Grand Slam of the season.
"And in the first week I didn't move myself, I was just practising from the middle," he said. "So realistically I have been playing for one week or something, that's all."
That places in perspective his straight sets loss to his friend David Ferrer, the world number three from Spain, in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi three days ago.
It also raised questions about Nadal's ability to win the Qatar Open title for the first time here this week and his capacity to be ready for the Australian Open in Melbourne in less than two weeks time.
"I am going to try to be competitive from the beginning," he said. "The first two events are very early for me."