Rafael Nadal overcame a poor start on his return to competitive singles action to coast past Federico Delbonis 6-3 6-2 in the second round of the VTR Open in Chile.
The 11-time Grand Slam champion made his return to competitive tennis earlier this week alongside Juan Monaco in the doubles, but last night marked his first singles match since a shock second round defeat against Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon eight months ago.
A torn tendon and inflammation in his left knee had kept him out of the 2012 Olympic Games and the last year’s US Open, while a virus further delayed his return to action this year.
“I’m happy to play a singles match after so long,” Nadal said. “I need days and time to get my game back, but so far the feeling on court is great.
“For now the most important thing is to spend as much time as possible on court. This victory allows me to play at least two more matches, singles and doubles.”
The rust was showing as Nadal, now ranked fifth in the world, dropped his serve in the first game of the match and quickly fell into an 0-2 hole to the left-handed Argentinian. But he rebounded in style against his 128th-ranked Delbonis, regaining the break in the fourth game before prevailing in a hard-fought eighth game to give himself a chance to serve for the opening set.
Nadal raced to a 4-0 lead in the second, seeming to move with ease around the sun-splashed red clay court — even when racing to the net after drop shots. He locked up the match after 87 minutes coming up with four aces and facing just one break point.
The former world number one, playing with the familiar band of tape around the bottom of his left knee, had looked keen to get things underway as he danced on the balls of his feet during the coin toss, wearing a bright purple shirt and grey shorts.
He had vocal supporters in the packed grandstand as he made his first appearance in eight years in Latin America’s “Golden Swing” of tournaments.
Nadal, who will be 27 in June, had down played his expectations for his comeback event. But his world ranking gave him the number one seed here and a first-round bye.
“To practice is one thing but to play is totally different," he said afterwards.
"In a real match you can’t control your body as you do in practice."
In the quarter-finals he will face either compatriot Albert Montanes or another Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
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