Rafa Nadal says his recuperation from a knee injury is proceeding according to plan, but he will not rush back before it has healed properly.
The world number three admits his lay-off may include next year's Australian Open.
The Spaniard has missed the last three months with a patella problem in his right knee - not taking to the court since his stunning loss to Czech Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon in June.
Having sat out the Olympics - Nadal was due to be the flag-bearer for Spain - and the US Open, he is itching to return.
But he concedes a comeback is unlikely in 2012 and his participation in the opening major of 2013, the Australian Open in Melbourne, is also under threat.
The 26-year-old told the Daily Mail: "I hope you see me in Australia. That is the biggest goal for me, to come back just before then in Qatar, but I cannot say for sure it is going to happen."
"The only thing is to recover well. I don't want to keep playing every day with doubts, not knowing if my knee is going to answer all the questions" - Rafa Nadal
The nature of the injury makes it difficult for Nadal to make any predictions but he is simply eager to play without the worry of breaking down again.
"All that is in my mind is to keep working hard to come back," he added.
"I cannot think about the future because it's not like if you break your arm and you know you will have a few weeks like this, then a few weeks like that and then you are back.
"This is a day-by-day thing, I have checks every week to see how I'm improving. I can't predict what will happen."
"The only thing is to recover well. I want to be 100% when I come back. I don't want to keep playing every day with doubts, not knowing if my knee is going to answer all the questions.
"I am 26-and-a-half, I love competition, playing tennis, and this was actually a season I enjoyed playing more than others. I have the motivation to come back and that's what I'm going to try."