Tennis

Nadal: Playing again 'a thing of joy'

Image: Rafael Nadal (© Martin Bernetti/AFP via Getty Images)
Rafael Nadal teamed with Juan Monaco to win a doubles match in his return to action.
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VINA DEL MAR, Chile (AP)

Now that he finally has a competitive match under his belt after seven months on the sidelines, Rafael Nadal wants to stop talking about his injured left knee.

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Nadal , whose knee problem has lingered despite on-going therapy, marked his return to the tour with a doubles victory Tuesday alongside Juan Monaco at a little-known clay court tournament in Chile.

The Spaniard had not played since June 28 when he was upset in the second round of Wimbledon by qualifier Lukas Rosol.

Nadal and Monaco won easily in just over an hour at the VTR Open, defeating the Czech pair of Frantisek Cermak and Lukas Dlouhy 6-3, 6-2. Nadal's practice sessions in Chile have lasted longer, and the first question centered on his knee - a sore subject with the Spaniard.

The former No. 1-ranked Nadal addressed the question for several minutes, and then said he wanted to drop the subject and concentrate on tennis as he begins a build-up to what could be his eighth French Open title.

''The knee - I said it when I got here. I would prefer not to keep talking about the topic,'' Nadal said. ''At the end of the day the doctors have said it's OK. There is no risk of making it worse. My knee keeps hurting. But the fact I am playing here is a thing of joy.

''I am not 100 percent, I need some weeks,'' he added. ''If it hurts, it hurts and we'll put up with it. I am here to play tennis, with or without pain. ... I'm happy to have played an official game, although it was doubles.''

Nadal opens his singles campaign Wednesday against Argentine Federico Delbonis, hoping to catch up to the other three of tennis' Big Four - Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.

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The Spaniard has been almost unbeatable on clay, winning 93 percent of his singles matches - the highest percentage in the Open era.

Nadal has avoided surgery, and he suggested he hoped to continue on the same path.

''If one day it is worse, and one can't compete at 100 percent, then it can't be done,'' he said.

Nadal showed quick reactions with a difficult backhand volley at the net to win the sixth game of the first set Tuesday. Nadal and Monaco broke in the next game, and Nadal held serve in the next to make it 5-3 en route to a first-set victory.

Nadal hit several powerful forehands at sharp angles to win points, and seemed at ease moving around the court. And he drew the usual whistles from female fans as he stripped off his shirt after the win.

''I need for the knee be stronger, to be more comfortable playing all out,'' Nadal said. ''There are days when the knee is not comfortable. ... Today I am in the second round of doubles and tomorrow I start in singles. I'm not going to speak more about the knee. What's coming up is tennis, and that's why I am here to try to play as well as I can.

''The more hours I am on the court, the better,'' he added. ''Today was important, but in another aspect it wasn't so important. The most important was just to be here. There is no doubt that perhaps the result here is not the overriding thing. I'll do all I can to win and play as well as I can.''

Nadal is a huge favorite to win in Chile. If he doesn't, questions will follow him to the next two clay-court events in Brazil and Mexico - warmups for the French Open. But if he does win, the questions will also come up again at the next two stops in Latin America.

Toni Nadal, his uncle and coach, has said this year's French Open will be much like Nadal's first - meaning there will be nerves.

Others have noted that the weak field in Chile is much like Nadal would face in a sweep through the first week of the French Open.

Chile, without a top player since Fernando Gonzalez retired last year, has a new hope in 16-year-old Christian Garin.

Garin defeated Dusan Lajovic 6-3, 6-4 on Tuesday in the first round. He is only the fifth 16-or-under player to win in an ATP Tour event since 2000.

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