CINCINNATI -- Rafael Nadal is keeping expectations in check while focusing on fitness as he prepares for the Cincinnati Masters.
The world number three, who handed in an abdominal muscle injury walkover in his Wimbledon semi-final with Nick Kyrgios, takes the second seeding behind Daniil Medvedev in the American Midwest at the joint ATP and WTA tournament.
With Novak Djokovic missing due to his refusal to get a Covid-19 vaccination, the 36-year-old Spaniard has one less dangerous opponent to deal with at the US Open tuneup.
Nadal could return to the top ranking spot for the first time since January 2020, which would mean a top seeding at the US Open starting on August 29.
That could come to pass if he wins the Cincinnati title and Medvedev fails to reach the quarter-finals.
But for Nadal, it's all about keeping healthy, letting the results fall where they may.
"Number one is nice but staying healthy is the most important thing," Nadal said on Sunday. "I don't have a goal of returning to number one.
"If that happens because I play very well, then it would mean a lot to have that opportunity."
The 2013 Cincinnati champion said that his goal will be to "stay healthy and finish the season playing where I want to play."
"I won't play more than what I think will work for my body."
The Spaniard said that with a baby on the way, his playing schedule might have to be moderated.
"I'm happy to be in this position -- if for some reason I return to number one, I'd be very happy."
Nadal, who has put in a brutal training schedule since arriving in Cincinnati at mid-week, said that still feels pain on serve from his injury.
But he said that obstacles are part of any comeback.
"You cannot expect to play at an amazing level immediately. You have to be humble and use the tools that you have to win the first match," Nadal said.
"Once you win a few, things change. I'm not always having some good feelings on court. You need to accept that things will be difficult at first."
© Agence France-Presse