At the Net: Rafa hopes to rebound in 2015

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Yes, he won yet another French Open title this year, but 2014 wound up being a somewhat forgettable season for former world No. 1 great Rafael Nadal.

Right off the bat, Rafa lost his No. 1 spot to Novak Djokovic after opening the year atop the rankings for a third time in his brilliant career. Due to injury and illness, the Spanish bull wound up at No. 3 when '14 was all said and done.

Needless to say, Nadal's hoping to be 100 percent when 2015 rolls around in just over a month. He'll open his newest campaign in January in Doha, where he's the defending champ at that particular hardcourt Australian Open tune-up.

FYI: Nadal will actually play his first tennis of the new year at an exhibition event in Abu Dhabi in January.

Nadal's comeback from a lengthy 12-week right wrist injury layoff, which forced him to miss the U.S. Open for a second time in three years, was short- lived as he fell ill with appendicitis following a quarterfinal showing in Beijing.

The left-handed legend tried to play at the Shanghai Masters and in Basel (where he was stunned by promising 17-year-old Croat Borna Coric) before prematurely ending his season to have an appendectomy a couple weeks ago, forcing him to miss the ATP World Tour Finals (where he's a two-time runner- up). He also missed out on playing at the Masters tournament in Paris this fall.

Note: Nadal holds the record with 27 ATP Masters titles.

The struggling star closed out his year by dropping five of his last 12 matches following the French Open, including that season-ender at the hands of the young Coric.

Speaking at a charity poker match this week at London's Hippodrome Casino (where he beat soccer great Ronaldo to earn $50,000 for the Rafa Nadal Foundation), the 28-year-old Nadal said, "The recovery is going well. Obviously, I haven't practiced yet. But I'm happy with how the operation went and I'm trying to be ready and healthy for 1st December, when I can start practicing again.

"I won't be 100 percent when I start practicing again. But the most important thing is that I will be healthy enough to practice every day and I will have one month to try to be 100 percent and to try and fix my level of tennis. I hope to arrive in Doha being competitive.

"I've had a lot of problems in the second half of the year, but it's part of life and my career," said the nine-time king of Roland Garros. "I've got to accept that, stay positive and work hard to try to be back with a good feeling.

"The only way to be better is to work on my health. Without health, you cannot work."

And it wasn't just the wrist and the appendix bothering Nadal this year.

Two weeks ago, it was reported that he would undergo stem cell treatment on his ailing back. He hurt the back during the Aussie Open in January and was bothered by the injury throughout the year.

Nadal's coach and uncle, Toni Nadal, said Rafa did not have the treatment earlier in the year because of how long the process takes.

"He's had them for the past six months," said Uncle Toni. "It's stem cell treatment, and doing it properly requires five weeks," he added when explaining why they did not take advantage of the three-month layoff between July and October. "Because we all thought that he'd play at the U.S. Open, we were more focused on his wrist injury, which looked to be healing well.

"I'm not saying it was completely down to his back, but it's true that he wasn't fit to compete to the best of his ability," Toni added.

Meanwhile, all his physical problems didn't prevent Rafa from criticizing recently appointed Spanish Davis Cup captain Gala Leon this week for what he called a "false and absurd" debate over Uncle Toni's September comments on Leon's appointment as skipper.

Nadal said that the former WTA player Leon is fueling the fire rather than trying to unify the Spanish team.

"It seems strange to me, as Davis Cup captain, that instead of seeking union and harmony between players, captains and the federation, she has incited and fed a debate that is totally false and absurd," he said.

When Leon was appointed captain in September, Uncle Toni said it was "preferable that [the captain] is someone with a background in the world of men's tennis," comments that many observers, of course, classified as sexist.

Leon is Spain's first female Davis Cup captain.

Last month, Leon said she would not "ask for forgiveness for being a woman."

Leon has met with a number of Spanish players, but has yet to meet with Rafa.

On the court, the 14-time Grand Slam champ Nadal settled for four titles and three runner-up finishes in 2014. In addition to the French Open, another big title came on home soil at the Madrid Masters, and all three of his bridesmaid results came at big tour events -- the Aussie Open and Miami and Rome Masters.

As far as 2015 goes, something tells me he'll be ready.

Vamos, Rafa!