Rafael Nadal said the knee that cost him much of last season was holding up after he beat 128th-ranked Federico Delbonis at the Chilean Open in his first singles match on the men’s tennis tour since June.
After losing the first two games, Spain’s Nadal came back to defeat Delbonis of Argentina, 6-3, 6-2 in his opening round on the clay courts of Vina del Mar, Chile.
Nadal, who had been sidelined since Wimbledon with a knee injury and dropped to No. 5 in the world, will next play 101st-ranked Albert Montanes or No. 64 Daniel Gimeno-Traver, both also from Spain.
“It was a fantastic feeling, another time being on a tennis court, competing in a singles, with a fantastic atmosphere,” Nadal said in an interview on the ATP World Tour website. “Sure, the victory is an important result for me, but the most important thing is I had a good feeling on court and the knee answered more or less well.”
The 26-year-old has been sidelined with a partially torn patella tendon and knee inflammation. The most dominant clay-courter of his generation with 36 titles including a men’s record seven French Open championships, he’s making his comeback on the surface, which is more forgiving on joints and knees than hard courts.
“For now the most important thing is to spend as much time as possible on court,” said Nadal, who is also playing doubles this week with Juan Monaco of Argentina. “This victory allows me to play at least two more matches, singles and doubles. To practice is one thing but to play is totally different. In a real match you can’t control your body as you do in practice.”
The former world No. 1, who missed the London Olympics, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open, will play in Brazil next week and in Mexico the week after that. He’s not thinking about defending his French Open title in Paris in May.
“For me, Roland Garros is light years away,” he said. “All I see is doubles tomorrow and my singles again here on Friday.”