Rafael Nadal has again confirmed that he expects to be ready to play in next month’s Australian Open, but cautioned that he will be starting the new season “from almost zero.” The Spaniard missed the ATP World Tour Finals in London last month after undergoing surgery for appendicitis, while he has also used the recovery time to get treatment on a long-standing back injury. Now back in training at home in Mallorca, he is scheduled to return to the court in an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi, beginning New Year’s Day, before taking part in an ATP tournament in Doha from Jan. 5.

“The beginning is always challenging after a few tough months, without any continuity, and after the last month and a half without any sport and with the process of the appendicitis,” he told Spanish sports daily AS. “What I have to do this month is get in shape physically, progress tennis-wise and lay the foundation for a good start in Abu Dhabi and Qatar. And I need to use those tournaments to regain the competitiveness I’ve been without for several months because of the injuries.”

After those events, Nadal will head to the Australian Open, which begins on Jan. 19. The 14-time Grand Slam champion won in Melbourne in 2009 and has finished runner-up on his last two visits, in 2012 and 2014. And he hopes to be prepared for another major challenge this time around.

“If you train well and react well physically, the process is much quicker,” he explained. “In a few days you pick up the pace of the ball again and the movement in the legs. And if I do a good job at home and play well early in the year, it could be enough to be well prepared for Australia.

Nadal was heavily favored to beat Stan Wawrinka in the final of the first Grand Slam of this year but was painfully hampered by his back injury. While he was able to win his ninth French Open crown in June, he then missed three months with a wrist problem before appendicitis that hit shortly after his comeback brought an end to a frustrating year.

Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic secured his place at the top of the world rankings by winning both the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Paris and the season-ending showpiece event in London. World No. 2 Roger Federer also ended 2014 strongly, reaching the final in London, before having to pull out through his own injury but bouncing back a week later to win the Davis Cup for the first time. And Nadal, now ranked No. 3, accepts that he faces an uphill task to hastily reach the level of his two leading rivals for the past several seasons.

“I think Federer finished the year very well, like Djokovic,” he said. “They will start strong again and I from almost zero, with more problems. I have to recover what I lost in the last six months. It's a nice challenge to overcome, and I'm motivated.”

Nadal was named the “Favorite Son of Mallorca” earlier this week, but, according to his uncle and coach Toni Nadal, no less, he is not yet the best tennis player in history. Debate as to who is the greatest of not only this era but of all time has raged passionately on both sides for years. While Federer holds the edge in Grand Slam titles won, 17 to 14, Rafael Nadal has a clear advantage in their head-to-head meetings, 23-10. Yet Toni Nadal, who has coached Rafael since childhood, insists that Federer deserves to be regarded as the best in history.

“I think he is [the best of all-time], the numbers say so,” he told Spanish radio station Cadena COPE, according to ESPN. “Federer is the best in the history of the game alongside Rod Laver and, unfortunately for us, it is like that.

“I don't know why that is [that Nadal has a head-to-head advantage]. Federer's game doesn't affect Rafael as much. In any case, one is the best for the titles they win. Federer has won 17 grand slams, Rafael has won 14. He was number one for five years, Rafael for three. Therefore, there is no discussion, he [Federer] is the best.”