We’ve had a Grand Slam and a round of Davis Cup, but neither could match the anticipatory buzz that’s currently surrounding the ATP’s normally obscure 250-level event in the resort town of Viña del Mar in Chile. That’s where, as you are no doubt aware, Rafael Nadal will make his first appearance since Wimbledon last year. Rafa has met the president of Chile and had his practices thoroughly dissected, though he seemed happiest to be back in this shot from the tournament's player party. With Nadal planning to follow up with tournaments in Brazil and Acapulco, February suddenly feels like a big tennis month.
Nadal’s debut will actually come in doubles, with his friend Juan Monaco on Tuesday. His first singles match is scheduled for Wednesday, against either a qualifier or 92nd-ranked Guido Pella. U.S. viewers should be able to catch that match on the Tennis Channel at 4 P.M. Eastern. I’ll have a write-up on it, provided I’m awake. Judging from my post-Australia jet lag so far, that’s not a sure thing.
I’ll take this opportunity while I’m conscious to quickly preview Viña del Mar and the two other 250s, in Zagreb and Montpellier, to be played this week. Unfortunately for them, Rafa can only make his return in one place.
Viña del Mar, Chile
$410,200; 250 ranking points
Draw is here
This does seem to be the ideal spot for Nadal to test the competitive waters. The VTR Open is on red clay and has a draw of just 28 players. The second seed is Monaco, a man Rafa has beaten savagely all four times they’ve played on clay. At Roland Garros last spring, the scores were 2, 0, and 0.
Rafa says he still feels some pain in his knee, and he’ll almost surely show signs of rust, even on his favorite surface (though he looked fine in this practice session with Nicolas Massu). One threat could come from Jeremy Chardy in the semifinals, if the Frenchman can carry his del Potro-beating form from Australia across the Pacific. And sixth seed Paolo Lorenzi did put a scare into Nadal when he won the first set from him in Rome in 2011. Still, despite being away for so long, it would be a surprise if Nadal didn’t win ths tournament.
PBZ Zagreb Indoors
$554,600; 250 ranking points
Indoor hard court
Draw is here
The theoretical final would be No. 1 seed Marin Cilic vs. No. 2 seed Andreas Seppi. I can only hope that the tennis fans of Zagreb missed the five-set match that those two played in Melbourne a couple of weeks ago. Otherwise, they might consider giving their tickets back now. It wasn’t a thriller.
Can anyone prevent a rematch? The other seeds, in descending order, are Mikhail Youzhny, Jurgen Melzer, Martin Klizan, Marcos Baghdatis, Grigor Dimitrov, and Lukas Lacko. Most interesting among those names is Dimitrov’s; he played some good tennis in Brisbane to start the year, before playing some not-so-good tennis to lose in the first round in Melbourne.
Potential second round War of the Lukases: Lacko vs. Rosol.
Open Sud de France
$544,600; 250 ranking points
Indoor hard courts
Draw is here
This tournament had the misfortune of seeing its top seed, Tomas Berdych, pull out after a long (and ultimately successful) Davis Cup weekend for the Czechs. In Berdych’s place at the top of the draw is 5th seed Nikolay Davydenko, while the favorite to win the event becomes No. 2 Janko Tipsarevic.
Otherwise, this is a highly French affair, with 12 of its 28 entrants hailing from the home country. The best of them is third-seeded Richard Gasquet, who could meet his mate Gael Monfils in the second round. There could be a lot of all-Gaul battles over the course of the week, though anyone fearing a repeat of the Monfils-Simon monstrosity from Australia probably doesn’t need to worry. They could only do their thing against each other in the final.
Chat with Steve Tignor: Tuesday, 1 pm EST