Doha – Record-breakers Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray could begin the new year by forging another link in the chain of coincidences which have marked their careers.
The eight times French Open champion and the first British man to win Wimbledon in 77 years could well meet in the later stages of the Qatar Open which starts Monday.
They also begin 2014 with Murray's short-term prospects mirroring Nadal's uncertain predicament here a year ago, when a long absence and persistent knee injuries cast a cloud over his future.
Now it is the Scot who has not competed on the ATP Tour for four months leaving him with doubts and fears about how well he will recover from his back problem.
The Spaniard had been sidelined for seven months when he belatedly withdrew from the 2013 Qatar Open, triggering a fusillade of inaccurate predictions that he might never fully recover.
Nadal missed the Australian Open two weeks later but responded with one of the greatest comebacks of all time, going on to regain the world number one ranking in the final week of the season.
Murray would love to make a comparable recovery, especially after having unloaded one of the biggest psychological burdens in tennis history, and taking a bold decision to have his operation only eight weeks afterwards.
The two men have enjoyed a friendship ever since they met as itinerant teenagers at the Sanchez-Casal academy in Barcelona more than a decade ago. Predictably perhaps, Nadal now believes that Murray can go on to further great achievements.
At the moment, though, the only evidence comes from Murray having survived an exhibition with Jo-Wilfried Tsonga two days ago, apparently without physical ill effects. The two-set loss was secondary.
“I can't expect to feel great for long periods of matches straight away Ä it was a good workout,” Murray said then. “You want to play your best but you need to be realistic and patient.
“Moving is the most important thing. I just need to be able to do it for a longer period. I just felt like I hadn't played a match for a while.”
It remains to be seen whether Murray will be fit enough for the Australian Open, though there seems little doubt that Nadal will be planning a major assault on the year's first Grand Slam, a title he has not won for five years.
If Nadal and Murray do meet during the coming week, the world number one may be more mindful that he has not prevailed since their meeting in the US Open semis of 2011 rather than the winning 13-5 head-to-head record he holds.
There is, however, no guarantee that either of the tournament's two biggest names will reach the later stages.
That is because the draw also included David Ferrer, the world number three from Spain, Tomas Berdych, the former Wimbledon finalist from the Czech Republic, and Richard Gasquet, who last year drew attention to himself as one of the great unfulfilled talents with a series of fluent performances which earned him the Qatar Open title.
1, Rafael Nadal (ESP); 2, David Ferrer (ESP); 3, Andy Murray (GBR); 4, Tomas Berdych (CZE); 4, Richard Gasquet (FRA); 6, Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER); 7, Ernests Gulbis (LAT); 8, Fernando Verdasco (ESP). – Sapa-AFP