* World number three returns in Madrid after rest
* Swiss eyes return to number one and Sampras record
* Nadal also looking to climb back above Djokovic (Adds Nadal quotes and byline)
By Iain Rogers
MADRID, May 6 (Reuters) - In fine fettle after a month-long rest, Roger Federer is ready to get his clay season underway and continue his bid to recapture the world number one ranking from Novak Djokovic.
The 30-year-old Swiss maestro, who has not played since losing to Andy Roddick at the Sony Ericsson Open at the end of March, said he had needed some time away from tennis to recharge his batteries and rid himself of one or two niggling injuries.
Federer has played some of his best tennis in years in winning three titles this season, including the Indian Wells Masters event, but knows that challenging Rafa Nadal on the Spaniard’s favoured clay and stealing his French Open crown in Paris starting at the end of this month will be a tall order.
“I feel good about my chances of playing well in the next few months,” the world number three told a news conference previewing this week’s Madrid Open on Sunday.
“But then again I am coming back on clay and Rafa has been so dominant on this surface for so many years so I know the task ahead of me,” added the 16-times grand slam singles champion.
In an intense start to the year, Federer played 23 matches and lost three, reaching the semi-finals of the Australian Open before falling to Nadal and winning events in Rotterdam and Dubai to add to his success in Indian Wells.
He also had a busy end to 2011, triumphing at the World Tour finals in London in November after victories at the Paris Masters and his home event in Basel.
The rest was vital, said Federer.
“I needed it because I did play so, so much and this break was also looking ahead to what’s to come and there’s a lot on my plate and I want to be fresh in my mind and fit in my body for those big goals ahead,” he added.
”It was more about relaxing my body because I had been playing with some niggling injuries over a few weeks, or a few months almost, and I am happy they went away.
”It was just to get away from tennis for a while really, get away from the craziness that surrounds it, the matches and the press and all that stuff.
“So that was nice to just recharge the batteries, that was the key during this break.”
If Federer can leapfrog number two Nadal and topple Djokovic he would equal, and then have a chance of beating, Pete Sampras’s record of 286 weeks at the top and the Swiss said he was in a “pretty good position” to do it over the coming months.
“All of a sudden if you do win a grand slam again you have a shot and if I do I’ll probably be extremely close to world number one,” he said.
”Then again - easier said than done. I know what it takes to win a grand slam. It’s hard, it’s always been hard.
”It’s still far away for me and my focus is on my next match here on Wednesday.
“But it is a dream for me this year try to achieve that again. I’ll try to chase that as hard as I can and see if it’s possible. If not it’s no problem and I’ll just try to win tournaments which is a thrill in itself.”
Djokovic and Nadal both have a lot of points to defend in the coming months, but the Spaniard is also eyeing a possible return to the top of the rankings, where he has spent a total of 102 weeks during his career.
“I am in a good position thanks to a good start to the year,” Nadal told a separate news conference on Sunday.
“But right now I am closer to number three than number one,” added the 25-year-old Mallorcan.
”Federer had a spectacular end to the year last year and has started this year very well too.
“My first objective is always to qualify for the World Tour finals and I am close to doing that so once that’s done anything else is a plus.”
Second seed Nadal, the 2010 champion who lost in last year’s final to Djokovic, and third seed Federer, winner in 2009 when he beat Nadal in the title match, both have byes into the second round in Madrid and begin their campaigns on Wednesday.
Nadal takes on Nikolay Davydenko, who beat Ivo Karlovic on Sunday, while Federer will play the winner of the first-round match between fast-rising Canadian Milos Raonic and former world number three David Nalbandian of Argentina. (Editing by Peter Rutherford and Clare Fallon)