In this photo released by Chile's Presidential Press Office, Spain's tennis player Rafael Nadal, right, shakes hands with Chile's President Sebastian Pinera at the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, Chile, Friday, Feb. 1, 2013. Nadal arrived in Chile on Friday and will test his injured left knee in competition for the first time next week after sitting out for seven months, the longest break of his career. (AP Photo/Chile's Presidential Press Office)The Associated Press
FILE - In this June 26, 2012 file photo, Rafael Nadal of Spain returns a shot to Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil during a first round men's singles match at the All England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon, England. One week ahead of his expected return to tennis, Rafael Nadal says his left knee is still causing him pain. The 26-year-old Spaniard is scheduled to play next week in Chile before heading to tournaments in Brazil and Mexico. Speaking Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013, on the island of Mallorca, Nadal says that although his knee is looking better, "sometimes it still hurts ... but I have to start sooner or later." (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus, File)The Associated Press
VINA DEL MAR, Chile – They were giving the tickets away a year ago — and still had a difficult time attracting fans.
It's a different story this year at the VTR Open, a small ATP clay-court tournament in this resort city on Chile's Pacific coast. This is where Rafael Nadal has decided to make his comeback after sitting out for more than seven months with an injured left knee.
Nadal had never been to Chile, much less played an event here. Now he's being treated like a native son with local newspapers digging up his connections to distant family members in the country. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera was one of the first to greet him when he arrived.
Call it the Nadal Effect.