Nadal's return boon for Chile tourney

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 03, 2013
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 Rafael Nadal Effect. ''This country wants success and wants to be seen as successful,'' said tournament press officer Rafael Walker. ''For a long time the country was like a little island, isolated from the world by the sea and mountains. So when you get a big star here - like Nadal - he's treated like a rock star.'' The tournament is sold out from Tuesday when Nadal opens in doubles with partner Juan Monaco. He gets a bye into the second round of singles and starts Wednesday against little-known Argentine Guido Pella, or a qualifier. ''All the sponsors used to hand out tickets to clients, and they weren't used. They will be used this time,'' Walker said. ''The local television stations that used to send out their second-level talent are sending out their top people. You can see them already here posing for photos with Nadal and asking for photographs. You know, acting like kids.'' Tourism officials are hoping Nadal's appearance boosts local business, which took a hit last month with overcast skies discouraging beachgoers during the South American summer. Visitors from neighboring Argentina have also stayed away, hurt by a devaluation of the local currency that has made travel expensive. The seven-time French Open champion practiced for almost two hours on Sunday on the main stadium court, facing fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar on the other side of the net with Nadal's uncle Toni -- also his coach -- right behind him fetching balls. The only hint that Nadal may be less than 100 percent was a white bandage wrapped around his left knee. Otherwise, there was plenty of pop in his high-bouncing forehands. And he showed off the same muscular physique when he changed orange shirts midway through practice. The 26-year-old Nadal should win this event, and if he doesn't speculation will immediately begin about his future. He's trying to play down his chances, telling reporters on Saturday he's hoping for an ''acceptable level'' as he starts the first of three clay-court events in Latin America as warmups for a run at his 12th Grand Slam title, and an eighth at the French Open. ''This should be like the first week of Roland Garros (French Open) for him,''' said Marcelo Caro, a tennis coach who drove 150 kilometers (100 miles) from the Chilean capital Santiago to watch Nadal practice on Sunday. ''In theory he shouldn't lose a set because the competition is not at his level -- if he doesn't get injured.'' Another injury would be a crushing blow for the Spaniard, who is just ending his longest stretch away from the game. Several hundred fans watched Nadal practice, with Toni Nadal chatting with fans at courtside. At one point Nadal posed for photos with a baby on his lap, and autographed tennis balls, copies of his book, and T-shirts as he navigated 50 meters (150 feet) from the court to the shelter of the player's dressing room. ''Nadal is like an industry,'' added Caro, the tennis coach. ''He generates a lot of money.'' Nadal is reported to have received hefty appearance money to play in Chile, though tournament officials have not confirmed it. The venue is not ideal for a comeback. The tournament site -- Club Las Salinas -- located within view of the ocean is traditionally windy and often chilly. ''For the tournament, Nadal being here is unbelievable,'' said German player Dustin Brown. ''And it's great for the players, as long as you don't have to play Nadal.'' Nadal fills a need in Chile. Its long-time top player Fernando Gonzalez retired last year, leaving the country without a star. Paul Capdeville is the country's highest ranked player at 153, and he failed to qualify for the tournament. That leaves only two Chileans in the field -- No. 577 Nicolas Massu, and Christian Garin, ranked 923. Jaquelina Frez and her daughter Dalal Chahuan drove 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the nearby town of La Calera to watch practice. They will skip the tournament, partly because Jaquelina says ticket prices are too expensive. ''I know the prices have gone up from other years,'' she said. Her 17-year-old daughter is an accomplished amateur player, and she talked about Nadal as a superstar, racing to the court exit after practice to snap a photo. ''He's a celebrity, and you want to see him if you like tennis, or don't like tennis,'' Dalal said. ''He brings attention to the area and excitement to the fans.'' Not to mention a boost to some local bank accounts.
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Joe Mauer: Concussions blurred vision, affected hitting

LeBron James says Kevin Love-Celtics trade rumor is false

Michael Jordan gifts Kobe Bryant full set of Air Jordans

Bethune-Cookman football player killed at party

Former UFC heavyweight Kevin Randleman dead at 44

WATCH: Chelsea scores three goals in less than 20 minutes

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Broncos safety Shiloh Keo arrested for DUI

Mountain West admits error, says Boise St. shot was good

WATCH: John Calipari loses his mind, gets ejected

Former Clemson star Tajh Boyd to speak at John Kasich rally

Peyton Manning's alleged not-so-wholesome image

Hawks not shopping Al Horford at NBA trade deadline

Michael Jordan gives Kobe Bryant complete set of Air Jordans

Drake has Kentucky edition of custom ‘OVO’ Air Jordan 8s

QUIZ: Name every NBA All-Star Game MVP

Watch rare footage of Stephen Curry from 2001-02 emerges

Check out this custom camouflage Oregon helmet

Ejected John Calipari tweets “they don’t need me and I love it”

Popovich would 'buy ticket' to watch Warriors play

Jamal Murray destroyed South Carolina defender with dunk

WATCH: Lon Kruger gets Oklahoma hoops squad hype for Kansas test

Texas signee glad he didn’t pick Texas A&M after alleged racism

Dallas Stars have passed the early tests in February

Could Matt Forte become the revival for Patriots run game?

Are the Celtics legimate contenders in the East?

Tennis News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

Ranking the ten best free agent pitcher signings

Who had the best NBA All-Star Game of the last 40 years?

The winners and losers of the 2016 MLB offseason

On Kobe Bryant and taking greatness for granted

Bucks need to choose between wins, development

Fantasy booking WrestleMania 32

Unrestricted free agents each team must consider re-signing

QUIZ: Name the winners of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest

Thank you Daniel Bryan

The timeless greatness of Jaromir Jagr

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker