10/14/12 2:04 AM | Cheryl Murray
While the speculation - informed and otherwise - continues over the tennis fate of Rafael Nadal, fellow ATP elites admit that the Spanish shotmaker is missed around the tournament traps as his absence nears the end of its fourth month.
The world No. 4 has not played since the Wimbledon second round in late June and has been trying to heal knee troubles ever since. Reports on any success vary, with some saying the 26-year-old is hoping for a cameo doubles role in the Davis Cup final in Prague against the Czechs in just five weeks.
Others suggest that Nadal might make it back for the year-end World Tour Finals in London starting November 5, for which he has qualified. And at the other end of the optimism scale, there are those who feel that his earliest due date with a racquet is the rich Abu Dhabi exhibition in late December - or perhaps the Australian Open.
While the wait goes on, world No. 2 Novak Djokovic admits that the Spaniard's magic is in short supply, saying that when Nadal is around he brings "certain excitement in the sport."
"He's definitely one of the best tennis players ever to play the game and an extremely popular and successful global athlete," said the Serb. "There's a difference when he's around and when he's not around. I don't, however, think there's a big difference, a significant one which would maybe will affect the tournaments where we are all playing in a negative way."
Nadal's only comments on his progress have been during the occasional interview as he spends day after day at home, unable to train but trying to keep fit through swimming and distracted through various engagements.
The former No. 1 has said he cannot rush his treatment and will have no predictions as to when he will appear on a court again.
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