VINA DEL MAR, Chile – Rafael Nadal said all along it might take a while to return to form after seven months off due to an inflamed left knee. In the meantime, the Spaniard is happy to be back on the court.
Nadal lost the singles and doubles finals at the VTR Open on Sunday, but sounded upbeat despite the disappointing finish to his comeback tournament.
"Everything was very positive," he said. "It's true I wanted to win the final, and it's true I didn't play my best match this afternoon. There are a lot of things that show I'm not perfect yet.
"I hope this is the beginning of a lot of tournaments and a lot of good results for me."
Nadal was beaten by Argentina's Horacio Zeballos in three sets in the singles final. Then Nadal and partner Juan Monaco lost 6-2, 6-4 in the doubles final against the Italian pair of Paolo Lorenzi and Potito Starace.
Nadal was an overwhelming favorite, particularly in singles where he was shooting for this 37th singles title on clay. But Zeballos won 6-7 (2), 7-6 (6), 6-4 for his first title on any surface, looking every bit the equal of the seven-time French Open champion.
Nadal said just being able to play again was some reward.
"It was a week when we didn't know how the body would respond, the knee," he said. "At least we have seen we can compete up to a certain level. It's true I have had good days and bad days that impact on my play."
It was only the fifth loss for Nadal in a singles final on clay.
Zeballos matched Nadal shot for shot with no service breaks until the third set, dropping to his back on the red clay surface after winning.
"This is the game of my life," Zeballos said. "Playing against the best player of all-time, or one of the best in the history of tennis. It's a dream, unforgettable. I will never forget this moment."
Zeballos said the two chatted briefly, and Nadal offered some advice.
"He told me: 'Enjoy this title, this is your first so just enjoy it,'" Zeballos said.
Nadal had most of the support, with fans waving Spanish flags and some wearing T-shirts saying "Vamos Rafa" and "Viva Espana." The Spaniard has been treated like a native since arriving in Chile for his comeback tournament.
Nadal plays again this week in the Brazil Open in Sao Paulo, and later this month on clay in Acapulo, Mexico — all aimed at getting him ready for a run at this eighth French Open title.
Nadal has consistently said his comeback might be a slow one, needing time to regain his speed and match fitness. The knee still bothers him, and he has warned it might be several months before it's clear if the non-surgical treatment has been effective.
The first set went to a tiebreaker. Zeballos kept Nadal off balance with his serve and hit the corners, but the Spaniard held on to take the lead in the match.
Zeballos would not be denied. He outplayed Nadal in the second set, taking the tiebreaker 8-6. Zeballos then raised both hands at the net and stared directly at Nadal.
Zeballos was broken in the first game in the final set, but broke back in the next game and then took the match, breaking Nadal again in the 10th game.
Nadal's last match before this tournament was a loss last year in the second round of Wimbledon to little-known Czech player Lukas Rosol.
This one was similarly surprising. They had met in the 2010 French Open, with Nadal winning 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.
Nadal also had won 15 straight matches on clay.
"The purely tennis aspect isn't the most important thing right now," he said. "The most important was being out there again in front of fans with fans being so supportive."
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