Vina del Mar: Rafael Nadal has reached both finals of the VTR Open in Chile, a perfect return to tournament tennis for the Spaniard after a seven-month layoff with a left-knee injury and a stomach virus.
Nadal defeated Jeremy Chardy of France in Saturday's singles semi-final 6-2, 6-2. Nadal and Juan Monaco won their doubles semifinal on Friday, meaning Nadal is scheduled to play twice on Sunday. Nadal will face Argentine Horacio Zeballos in the singles final, and Nadal and Monaco play Italy's Paolo Lorenzi and Potito Starace in doubles.
The former No. 1 has played six matches in five days and has not dropped a set. Nadal had few problems against Chardy, though he did double fault three times in one game in the first set.
Nadal says he's still feeling pain in his left knee, but stresses his focus is not on the injury but the need to get sharper and quicker in the lead-up to the French Open. He's said it may be a few months before he knows if the non-surgical therapy will allow him to regain his old form.
Nadal vs Zeballos looks like a mismatch. Some have compared the field in this event to Nadal's usual walk through the first week of the French Open. Zeballos has never won a tour singles title. Nadal has won 50, including 11 Grand Slams - seven at the French Open. He has also won eight doubles titles.
The 26-year-old Spaniard plays another clay-court event next week in Sao Paulo, and plays later in the month in Acapulco, Mexico - all aimed at getting ready for France. Earlier this week he was he was "light years" away from being ready for Roland Garros.
Nadal has repeatedly said that results are secondary on the swing through Latin America. But failing to win in Chile would be a red flag. Nadal has won 93 percent of his singles matches on clay, the highest percentage in the Open Era. Saturday's victory left him undefeated in 15 straight singles matches on clay.
The Spaniard looks slimmer, and he's shown no signs of favoring the left knee. Several times in the tournament he's raced recklessly to chasing down shots, a strong part of his game that wins him points.
Nadal has slipped to No. 5 in the ranking, but he will fall further in the coming weeks because he missed so many events and not accumulated ranking points.
"The ranking reflects your level for a whole year, and I was out seven months. If I can recover the level I had before I was hurt last year in June, by December I'll be back up there - if the physical side, the knee responds."
Nadal's spokesman Benito Perez-Barbadillo announced Saturday that Nadal and his manager Carlos Costa have set up their own events and sports management company. Both had been with the management agency IMG.