Viña del Mar, Chile – Rafael Nadal is back in action, commanding attention on the international tennis stage.
On Saturday Nadal beat Jeremy Chardy 6-2, 6-2 putting the Spaniard in both finals of the VTR Open after a seven-month layoff due to a left knee injury and a stomach virus.
Nadal and Juan Monaco won their doubles semifinal on Friday, so the former No. 1 is slated to play twice on Sunday. He will face Argentine Horacio Zeballos in the singles final and team with Monaco to take on Italy's Paolo Lorenzi and Potito Starace in doubles.
Nadal has played six matches in five days and has yet to drop a set.
"Every day improves and increases the confidence for me," he said. "Every day that the knee answers well is a lot of positive energy for me, and that's helping me a lot. The feeling day by day is better - the feeling on court."
"I am very happy what I am doing this whole week," he added. "So I cannot ask for any more."
Nadal double-faulted three times in one game in the first set against Chardy, but had few problems overall.
"The reality is that I'm in a final, which for me is very nice, very important after so much time without competing," he said.
Nadal says he's still feeling pain in his left knee, but stresses his focus is on becoming more sharp and quicker in the lead-up to the French Open. He has said it may be a few months before he knows if the non-surgical therapy will allow him to regain his old form.
Every day improves and increases the confidence for me.
Sunday's singles final appears to be a mismatch.
Zeballos has never won a tour singles title. Nadal has won 50, including 11 Grand Slams - seven at the French Open. He also has eight doubles titles.
The 26-year-old Nadal 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. He said earlier this week 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. He has won 15 straight singles matches on clay.
The Spaniard looks slimmer, and he's shown no signs of favoring his left knee. He has raced recklessly to chase down several shots in the tournament, a strong part of his game that wins him points.
Nadal has slipped to No. 5 in the world ranking, and will fall further in the coming weeks because he missed so many events.
"The ranking reflects your level for a whole year, and I was out seven months," Nadal said. "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."
Benito Perez-Barbadillo, a spokesman for Nadal, announced Saturday that the player and his manager Carlos Costa have set up their own events and sports management company. Both had been with the management agency IMG.
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.