Vina del Mar, Chile – Rafael Nadal has taken a few shaky steps in a comeback he hopes will give him a fighting chance of winning his eighth French Open title.
After being away from singles tennis for more than seven months while getting therapy on an injured left knee, Nadal defeated Federico Delbonis of Argentina 6-3, 6-2 on Wednesday to reach the quarter-finals of the VTR Open.
On Tuesday he advanced in doubles with partner Juan Monaco.
Nadal was pushed and won only one point on clay in the first two games against Delbonis.
“For me, Roland Garros (French Open) is light years away,” he said. “All I see is doubles tomorrow and my singles again here on Friday.”
After falling behind 0-2, Nadal broke back in the fourth game to level it 2-2, racing recklessly to chase down several shots in a long rally and showing no fear of injury to his knee. He was in control after that, wrapping up the set in 47 minutes.
Nadal breezed through the second set, cheered on by a sellout crowd of 4,500. The temporary stadium for the tournament has been increased by 1,200 seats for fans to see one of the sport's biggest stars, playing for the first time in Chile.
The former No. 1 again faced questions about his knee after the match, despite complaining Tuesday he was tired of talking about it.
“I have to be sure the knee answers well after a long time without playing at the top level of our sport,” he said. “If the recovery goes well and I am able to play week by week at 100 percent, and I am able to practice every day as much as I want – and that happens quick – then we'll talk about ambitious objectives.”
If not, Nadal said he would have to rethink his game, and probably his knee treatment. So far he has avoided surgery.
“If that doesn't happen, we'll talk about different goals,” Nadal said. “Let's see how things improve in the next couple of months, in the next couple of weeks. Let's talk in a few weeks, in a few months.”
Nadal said he is playing with some discomfort, and his coach and uncle Toni Nadal said it would continue until the end of the month.
Nadal's future is still surrounded by question marks.
He's fallen behind his main rivals in the game – Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray – and now will be scrutinised as he attempts his eighth French Open, which starts in late May. Nadal will turn 27 during the tournament and has been the game's most dominant player on clay.
Nadal is lowering expectation for this event, and the two tournaments on clay that follow in San Paulo, Brazil, and Acapulco, Mexico.
He meets either Albert Montanes or Daniel Gimeno-Traver – both Spaniards – in the singles quarter-finals Friday and plays doubles on Thursday with Monaco against the pair of Guillaume Rufin and Flippo Volandri.
“Roland Garros is a very important event, but I never think about it until I get there,” he said. “It doesn't matter if I arrive ranked No. 15, 20, 30 or 40. All that matters is I can play like I did before and my physical condition is 100 percent. ... My object is to be able to compete at the highest level as soon as possible.” – Sapa-AP