By Paul Virgo

ROME (Reuters) - Regaining the world number one ranking is no longer a top priority for Rafael Nadal as he plans to cut back his punishing ATP schedule to preserve his health, the Spaniard's coach said on Tuesday.

Nadal has dropped to third in the rankings, behind Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic, after knee problems disrupted his 2009 season.

"I suppose we'll play a little less," Nadal's coach and uncle Toni Nadal told Reuters before the 23-year-old begins his Rome campaign against Philipp Kohlschreiber on Wednesday.

"(The decision to miss Barcelona) was also related to the need to prepare for the upcoming season, which is hard, and avoid having problems with Wimbledon and Roland Garros."

Nadal, four times a winner in the Paris major, suffered his first ever defeat at the French Open last May and was then forced to miss the entire grasscourt season with tendinitis in his knees.

"The important thing for Rafa is not the ranking, but to be in good shape for every tournament he takes part in, to know that he has the chance to win the tournaments he takes part in," said Toni.

"This is more important than the ranking for him. Naturally, if on top of this, he has a good ranking, so much the better."

"I don't see this. He doesn't have an excessively physical game," he said.

"This story comes from when Rafa was 17, 18 years old. I don't think his game is just physical. It's a game suited to spin. If you look at the matches, I don't think he runs more than his rivals."

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)