Like the rest of the world, Rafael Nadal doubted during his seven-month injury layoff that his knees could carry him any further. But not for once did he question his thirst for success.
Buoyed perhaps by his status as the new world No. 1, it was with a spring in his step that the Spaniard arrived at the Qizhong Tennis Centre on Tuesday for the Shanghai Rolex Masters.
"The motivation is always the same - titles," he said, revealing the drive behind a remarkable comeback that has seen him bag 10 titles so far this year.
Never mind that the world was ready to pounce on an assessment of his health immediately upon his return. To him, there was far greater pressure just in waiting to play again.
He said: "When you're out of competition, the motivation to be back is a little bit more special.
"A lot of the time (you are) working hard without positive results, dreaming of (being) back to have the chance to be on court and play in the biggest stadiums again. When you are not able to do it, (they are) tough moments."
So while his lengthy absence from the sport was trying, the 27-year-old made sure he never lost sight of his goal.
Since making his return in February, the Mallorcan has played 13 finals in 14 tournaments, winning the French and US Opens.
This week, he moved past Novak Djokovic to sit atop the world rankings for the first time since July 2011.
Yet, his already stellar season - one he described yesterday as "one of the best of my career" - could get even better, beginning with his opening match against Ukraine's Alexandr Dolgopolov today. Should he go on to claim the Shanghai crown, he will become the first player to win six Masters 1000 titles in a year.
But even as he admitted he did not think reclaiming the No. 1 spot would be possible, Nadal shrugged off records, streaks and rankings as nothing more than just "numbers".
Instead, he feels more satisfaction in the ability to compete at a high level again. Said the 13-time Grand Slam champion: "At the end, when I am back on the tour, I am doing what I want to do.
"I am enjoying... all the things that the competition gives me and I'm able to do what I really like to do. That was a lot already."
Still, as a competitor known for his trademark fighting spirit, Nadal has every intention of making his great season even better.
He said: "In the past, this part of the season was hard for me but I am confident that I can keep playing well. I am doing the right things to be ready.
"Tomorrow, I will start. I'm going to go day to day as I did my whole career."
ATP Shanghai Masters: Day 3
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