Two of Rafael Nadal's top ten rivals have spoken out against critics who say that the winner of eleven Grand Slam titles can never again be the player he was.
David Ferrer, the world No.5 from Spain, and Richard Gasquet, the world No.10 from France, both contradict the idea that Nadal's prolonged absence is too long even for him to become the world's best player again.
The murmurs of doubters increased with last Friday's withdrawal from the coming Australian Open, Nadal saying his comeback from six months out with a damaged knee has been delayed by gastro-enteritis.
But Ferrer, voted Spanish player of the year in Nadal's absence, talks differently.
"The good news is he doesn't have pain in the knees, so that's the most important," he said.
"I spoke with him few days ago. He was sick with a virus, and he preferred to stop (practising). And he will come back in South America (Acapulco in February).
"I have confidence that when he comes back he will play good.
"Maybe not in his first tournaments because they are often tough, but I am sure he is coming back to number two or number one in the world."
Gasquet sounds even more certain of Nadal's resilience, suggesting that the seven-time French Open champion will be adding to his record-breaking exploits as soon as June.
"For sure he has problem with his knee, but I'm sure he's coming back on clay in a month, and I'm sure he will be ready for Monte Carlo, that kind of tournament," Gasquet said.
"He will be a hundred per cent. I'm pretty sure he will come back at his best level soon.
"He's coming back on a clay court, which is better for his knee. For sure he will come back at his top form for Monte Carlo (in April), these kind of tournaments. And for me he's still the favourite for Roland Garros."