VTR Open 2013: Rafael Nadal Will Only Improve After Winning Vina Del Mar Title

Mike Hoag@MikeHoagJrCorrespondent IIFebruary 9, 2013

June 28, 2012; London, ENGLAND; Rafael Nadal (ESP) reacts during his match against Lukas Rosol (CZE) on day four of the 2012 Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis Club.  Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

It's a foregone conclusion that top-seeded Rafael Nadal will walk away from Chile with the first title of 2013 under his belt.

We all knew the 2013 VTR Open in Vina del Mar was a huge test for Nadal after missing seven months of action.

We knew he would be returning against beatable competition and on the clay courts that he has dominated throughout his career. The King of Clay planned his return out in advance and those plans are coming to fruition before our very eyes.

What we didn’t know was whether his knee would hold up throughout the course of a full tournament.

Nadal said he is playing through pain and acknowledged that he was less than 100 percent on the court. Despite the obvious discomfort, the pain has not really proved to be a detriment up to this point.

So far, so good, as Nadal has cruised into the semifinals and is primed to take home his first tournament title since his besting of Novak Djokovic in the 2012 French Open final last June.

Even after displaying early signs of rust there wasn’t much doubt that Rafa would get his groove back. It was just a matter of time.

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And it took all of two games in his first match for it to happen.

After falling 0-2 to 128th-ranked Federico Delbonis in the first set, Nadal stormed back to win 6-3, 6-2. That isn’t a huge accomplishment for a guy who contends with and beats the best in the world. But it is an achievement for someone trying to get back on his feet and in a position to compete at a high level after an extended absence from the game.

Next up is Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the semis.

The 25-year-old right-hander is currently ranked No. 26 in the ATP rankings and is carrying the No. 3 seed at the VTR Open.

Nadal will need to be ready for a tougher challenge than the opponents he walked through in order to get here. When he gets the better of Chardy, his finals matchup against Horacio Zeballos or Carlos Berlocq will be just a formality.

Vina del Mar might not be the host of a Grand Slam, but winning it will be an accomplishment none the less. It will also mark the start of great things for Nadal in his comeback season.