He hasn’t said it out loud, but injured Rafael Nadal looks to be preparing for a return to tennis, with tune-up events apparently in the plans prior to the mid-January start of the Australian Open.

The 37-year-old who last played a match last January 18, is reported by Spanish insiders to be setting the stage for a December training block at his academy in Kuwait before flying to Oz for a possible pre-Open start at the ATP event in Brisbane.

But the 22-time Grand Slam champion is giving nothing away after missing almost all of the 2023 season as his ranking plunged to 663.

 “I’m well, training, and happy,” he said in recent weeks. “Until now I didn’t know if I would play tennis again someday.

“(But) now I genuinely believe I will. I’m still not ready to say when, but I’m able to train increasingly longer, and the progress is good.

“The steps toward trying to play again have been big and positive, which is what we have been fighting for for several months. I’m confident I’ll be able to say something more specific in the coming weeks.”

Desperate Open officials are praying for the Spaniard’s return, with TD Craig Tiley touting the possibility of a Melbourne Grand Slam start.

 “Rafa has been training, I follow him closely, probably every day, because he’s a massive drawcard for us.

“He wants to play, he’s obviously planning on playing … I’m certain Rafa will be here because he’s not going to want to miss the opportunity to repeat what he did a couple of years ago (champion in 2022).”