Viña del Mar: Rafa cruises through to the finals
Rafael Nadal continued his inexorable rehabilitation on the tour with an easy victory over the in-form Jeremy Chardy to reach the finals on his first visit to the VTR Open in Viña del Mar. Playing to a packed stadium, Nadal took just a shade more than an hour to dismiss the Frenchman 6-2, 6-2 to pave his way into the finals of his first competitive outing since June last year.
Chardy was coming off an impressive run to the quarter-finals at the Australian Open, but began on the wrong foot against Nadal surrendering the first service game. The Frenchman had a couple of opportunities to break back immediately, but repeated errors from his forehand meant that he could not make Rafa pay despite three double faults in the game by the Spaniard.
Nadal broke again in the third game to take control on the Central Court at Club Naval de Campo Las Salinas and consolidated the gains for a commanding 4-0 lead. Chardy finally found his serve in the fifth, a couple of aces helping the Frenchman hold easily but it was too late to make a dent on the raging Spaniard.
The seven-time French Open champion ran Chardy side to side before sealing the set with a thumping forehand drive volley on his first set point. Chardy’s only real opportunity came and went in the second game of an otherwise one-sided affair that lasted just 33 minutes. The match under control, Nadal started to play with far more freedom and a break to love in the third game of the second set got the Spaniard within sniffing distance of his dinner plate.
Chardy had three points to break back in the sixth game, but yet again the Frenchman disappointed himself making errors off either flank to squander the opportunities. Chardy had let the lion off the hook and Rafa preyed on the tentativeness of his opponent. The 26th ranked Frenchman made three errors off his misbehaving forehand and the Spaniard took a fourth break when Chardy missed an easy backhand volley.
Chardy was supposed to offer Nadal’s first real test this week, but the 25-year-old from Pau was laid bare by a superior athlete. Rafa earned two match points when Chardy sailed a forehand wide in the eighth game. A backhand error wiped away the first, but Nadal sealed victory with an ace down the middle before punching the air in delight at his smooth return back to form. Nadal saved each of the five break point chances off his serve and took 4 of the 6 opportunities that came his way to cruise to an easy victory. The Spaniard also brought an impressive 80% of his first serves into play in his most comfortable outing this week.
The world No. 5 will take on Horacio Zeballos in the finals – the Argentine reached his second career final claiming his third seeded victim of the week. The 73rd ranked player from Mar del Plata failed to serve out the second set twice in a row, but recovered quickly to complete a 6-3, 7-6(4) victory over the 8th seeded Carlos Berlocq to earn his date against Nadal. It will be double duty for Nadal on Sunday, as he has also made the doubles finals with Juan Monaco. “The ranking reflects your level for a whole year, and I was out seven months,” reminded Rafa. “If I can recover the level I had before I was hurt last year in June, by December I’ll be back up there — if the physical side, the knee responds.”
Elsewhere at the Open Sud de France in Montpellier, it will be a French affair on Sunday where the 3rd seeded Richard Gasquet will play 8th seed Benoit Paire. The world No. 10, looking for his ninth career title got through in three sets 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 against Jarkko Nieminen while Paire came from behind to defeat compatriot Michael Llodra 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach only his second career final. Paire lost to Andreas Seppi in the finals of the Belgrade event last year.
And at the PBZ Zagreb Indoors tournament, top seeded Marin Cilic put himself in pole position for a third title in Zagreb by overcoming a stiff test over Mikhail Youzhny. Cilic lost the first set, but recovered to eventually prevail 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 in two hours and 28 minutes. His opponent in the finals will be the fourth seeded Jurgen Melzer who took just 82 minutes to oust Robin Haase 7-6(2), 6-3. Melzer had earlier come through a tough three set win over Somdev Dev Varman in the second round of the tournament.