Doha - Two of Rafael Nadal's top 10 rivals have spoken out against critics who say that the winner of 11 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 Friday's news on Nadal that his six months on the sidelines with a damaged knee will be followed by more weeks out, reportedly because of 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, contradicting suggestions that the statement that Nadal has been unwell is merely cover for continued mobility problems.
"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).
"Rafael, he can do it because he's a very good player. He's a special player, no? He's not like anyone else. Rafael, he's very competitive, he's a winner, and he's young also.
"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.
"Nadal is one of the best. He's incredible. I'm sure he will come back at his best level, and that he can still win a lot of Grand Slams."
Asked therefore why there were so many people who doubted that such things were possible, Gasquet had a one-word answer - "journalists."
Meanwhile the top-seeded Ferrer has an extra incentive to do well over the next five days here at the Qatar Open, a lucrative and high profile build-up event for the new year's first Grand Slam tournament, the Australian Open, starting in Melbourne in two weeks time.
Ranking calculations suggest that the increasingly versatile player from Valencia, who won more matches (76) and more titles (seven) than any other player on the 2012 ATP World Tour, will climb above the fourth-ranked Nadal for the first time in his career if he reaches Saturday's final here.