A long-awaited Rafael Nadal’s arrival on tennis courts finally took place in Vina del Mar! Prior to this week the Spaniard didn’t enter any tournament since his sensational loss in the Wimbledon second round last year. It’s been the longest sabbatical of a player from the very top since John McEnroe‘s half-year withdrawal from the competition in 1986 # Nadal was well received by Chilean president Sebastian Pinera and the fans. He enjoyed much his first tournament played in Chile because his road for another title looked like a cakewalk until he encountered Horacio Zeballos  in the final. The left-handed Argentinian played a transcendental match, producing winners of all sorts, he was playing constantly with the risk on 2nd serve and it paid off in the end as he broke Nadal to ‘love’ in the last game of the tournament (no breaks in the first two sets, then two in a row to start the deciding set). He waited 47 tournaments for his maiden title, but was close to get the first one as early as his fourth main-level tournament in St. Petersburg where he reached the final blowing a match point (lost to Stakhovsky); it was a shocking result because he had had not experience of playing indoor tournaments. At the end of 2009 it seemed he would be another dangerous Argentinian, but sank in mediocrity for a couple of years reminding of himself to broader audience occasionally during Davis Cup weekends as a doubles player, he also contributed to the Argentine triumph at World team Cup ’10 in singles. Now, he is on a 20-match winning streak on clay (collected three straight Challenger titles: Montevideo & Sao Leopoldo ’12; Sao Paulo ’13)! “It’s a dream for me,” said Zeballos. “To be able to play a final against Nadal was already good enough for me. It’s a moment that will stay in my memory for the rest of my life. For some months, I’ve been playing at a high level and I think I’m at the best moment of my career. I’m very strong physically and psychologically.”Christian Garin of Chile became the first player born in 1996 to win an ATP match. Top seed and defending champion, Tomas Berdych withdrew from the event in Montpellier after his enormous effort at the Davis Cup weekend (12 hours 51 minutes). Berdych said: “One day you’re celebrating the victory, the next day you have to make a decision that’s not what you would like to do. I have to look long-term though. I’m still feeling my right wrist from that really long weekend, which is bothering me.” From that moment it was pretty obvious that some French guy would take the title. Three Frenchmen advanced to the semifinals, the final was an internal affair. Richard Gasquet  became the first man in 2013 to capture second title outplaying Benoit Paire in the final and improving his record this year to 14-1. The unorthodox Paire was lucky to get the final because in the second round he saved a match point with help of the netcord (vs. Darcis). It’s Gasquet’s 9th title, second “Open Sud de France”, but the previous one was obtained in a different location (after 22 years the event moved in 2010 from Lyon to Montpellier). The Frenchman stated: “I realise this is my best season start ever and I just want to keep going and stay healthy. I am leaving tomorrow to Rotterdam, then Marseille, which is also an important tournament in France for me.” 9 titles has collected also two years younger than Gasquet, Marin Cilic  a victor in Zagreb. The Croat has won his home tournament three times in the last four years, this title is the easiest one because in years 2009-10 he had to play five matches, four this year. “Most of my game was working extremely well,” said Cilic on the final. “My returns were really good and I had a read on almost all of his serves. I took my chances and defended well. Overall, I played a great match from beginning to the end.” The runner-up, Jurgen Melzer notched his 300th match win on Friday.
Vina del Mar (250) S: Horacio Zeballosd.(1,WC)Rafael Nadal 6-7(2), 7-6(6), 6-4 D: P.Lorenzi/P.Starace d. J.Monaco/R.Nadal 6-2, 6-4
Montpellier (250) S: (3)Richard Gasquet d. (8)Benoit Paire 6-2, 6-3 D: M.Gicquel/M.Llodra d. J.Brunstrom/R.Klaasen 6-3, 3-6, [11-9]
Zagreb (250) S: (1)Marin Cilic d. (4)Jurgen Melzer 6-3, 6-1 D: (2)J.Knowle/F.Polasek d. I.Dodig/M.Pavic 6-3, 6-3
Choker of the week: Mikhail Kukushkin, who led 5:2* (30-all) in the 3rd set against Arnau Brugues-Davi (Montpellier), had a match point at 6:5. The final score: 6-7(5), 6-3, 7-6(3) – the first main-tour level win of the 27-year-old Spaniard.
# Ends of similar sabbaticals of 27-year-old players:
(No. 7) John McEnroe’s 7-5 6-3 over Marko Ostoja (Stratton Mountain ’86) – didn’t play 6 months 2 weeks (No. 2 playing previous tournament)
(No. 5) Rafael Nadal’s 6-3 6-2 over Federico Delbonis (Vina del Mar ’13) – didn’t play 7 months 1 week (No. 2 playing previous tournament)