Rafael Nadal has sent a warning to the tennis elite with three-straight wins over men ranked in the world's top dozen, but insists his chances of a sustained career revival should not be judged on his Australian summer results.
Nadal's 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) win over David Goffin, the world No 12, in the final of a lucrative Abu Dhabi exhibition match sent him off for his first Brisbane International with confidence in his carry-on luggage.
The 14-time Grand Slam title winner is likely to play his long-awaited debut match in Brisbane against Ukrainian Alexandr Dolgopolov, ranked No 62 - less than 36 hours after his arrival from Abu Dhabi.
Brisbane top seed Milos Raonic and the seasoned Tomas Berdych were top-10 scalps for Nadal, ranked ninth, in what were admittedly low-pressure singles matches, his first since a wrist injury forced him to call a halt a month early to his 2016 campaign.
But Dolgopolov has twice beaten Nadal in three-set dogfights on the ATP, the 2014 Indian Wells Masters on hardcourt and the 2015 Queen's Club event on grass.
In contrast with Nadal's travel schedule, Dolgopolov gave up his Christmas at home to arrive on December 26 and give himself every chance to do well in Brisbane.
Nadal's camp would have liked him to have a Wednesday start at Pat Rafter Arena, but as fifth seed he did not get the first-round byes accorded the top four men's seeds.
Brisbane and the Australian Open are the first two stops of a four-tournament block after which Nadal says he will know how his form will track in 2017 and how his body will react to the punishment inherent in his playing style.
"We cannot start analysing my game from how I played here, or how I play in Brisbane," Nadal said in Abu Dhabi.
"When you are coming back from injury and you have not competed in a while, you cannot analyse how you feel after two or three events.
"I played three matches against three top players. That gives me some positive energy for the new year and to win against these kind of players is impossible if you are not playing well.
"It was pleasing to see that when I am able to play with confidence with my forehand, the matches are going the way I want.
"[After Brisbane, Melbourne, Rotterdam and Acapulco] I would have played enough tournaments to say, 'OK, I am here' or 'I am there'," he said.