TENNIS

Fit-again Nadal shows rust in Chile final loss to Zeballos

World number five's rehabilitation on track despite surprise defeat to 2009 newcomer of the year

Horacio Zeballos and Rafa Nadal with their trophies after Sunday's final in Viña del Mar.
Horacio Zeballos and Rafa Nadal with their trophies after Sunday's final in Viña del Mar. MARTIN BERNETTI (AFP)

Rafa Nadal came close to completing a perfect return to the tennis courts after a seven-month injury break but was unable to defeat Horacio Zeballos in Sunday’s final at the Chile Open in Viña del Mar. The Argentinean, who has leapt 30 places to 43rd in the ATP ranking, proved to be fitter and stronger than the former world number one, taking the first top-level title of his career 6-7, 7-6, 6-4.

Zeballos, a 27-year-old from Mar del Plata, pushed Nadal around the court with an excellent backhand. The world number five, a winner of 50 singles titles, was unable to break his opponent’s serve until the third set — upon which Zeballos broke back immediately before driving on to victory.

According to ATP, Zeballos joins a select club of three in having beaten Nadal in a clay-court final, the other two members being Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic.

But the tournament brought plenty of good news to the Nadal camp, most importantly the fact that his left knee held up through four rounds of the singles tournament, plus his run to the final alongside Juan Mónaco in the doubles. The pair were beaten by the Italians Paolo Lorenzi and Potito Starace. After dropping his opening service game of the tournament, Nadal proved that his competitive streak remains strong by saving 13 break point opportunities en route to the decisive set of Sunday’s final, when Zaballos succeeded in claiming the Spaniard’s serve twice.

“I felt good on court and I can’t ask for more than that,” the seven-time French Open champion said.

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