Winning at the VTR Open in Chile is not quite the same as winning a Grand Slam. However, Rafael Nadal's return should be intimidating for the rest of the world.
In his first tournament since Wimbledon, the Spanish star has played very well. He has already reached the semifinals with teammate Juan Monaco, and he won his first singles match against Federico Delbonis by a score of 6-3, 6-2.
The fact that he is performing well without apparent pain is a very good sign after seven months of no competitive matches.
After his first singles match, he told the tournament's official website (translated):
I am very happy to return to play and compete in a singles match. The sensations are good, but I repeat: I need time, I need days. Win me back to play again on Friday and enjoy a great atmosphere as it has been today. After several months without living thing has been pretty exciting for me.
It is obvious he will not be perfect. In all likelihood, Nadal will be very rusty after missing so much time due to a knee injury and then a stomach virus.
However, even if he loses in Chile, the rest of the ATP tour should start taking notice.
Despite falling in the second round of Wimbledon and missing the last seven months of play—including the U.S. Open and Australian Open—Nadal is still ranked No. 5 in the world.
The primary concern will be the fact that the next Grand Slam tournament is the French Open. Nadal has won seven times at Roland Garros and has only lost once in 53 career matches.
Regardless of how well he is playing at the time, Nadal's familiarity on clay should make him a favorite once the tournament begins.
Additionally, his return makes the entire field tougher. There is a big drop-off between the top four competitors and David Ferrer, who has never reached a Grand Slam final. In the last two tournaments, one semifinal would be incredibly difficult, while the other would be a walkover.
With Nadal back in the mix, both semifinals should be a thrill to watch.
Nadal now has a few months to get back into competitive shape before the French Open. By the time the tournament comes, he should look like the champion of old.
This is definitely not what Djokovic, Federer or Murray were likely looking forward to in the next Grand Slam.
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