Hello tennis fans and thanks for joining us to see how Rafael Nadal
fares in his first competitive match for more than seven months. The Spaniard has picked a low-key venue for his return, the Chilean port of Vina del Mar. He will partner friend Juan Monaco
in the VTR Open doubles tournament in a bid to test his knee ahead of tomorrow's singles match.
We last saw the 11-time Grand Slam champion at Wimbledon in June, where he crashed out to Lukas Rosol
in one of the biggest upsets ever seen at SW19. Nadal decided to take some time away from the court to receive treatment for tendinitis in his knee but will finally be back on his favourite clay surface today.
Nadal has opted to partner close friend and defending singles champion Juan Monaco in the doubles tournament at Vina del Mar. The fast-paced nature of doubles should provide us with a clear indication as to how fit the Spaniard is and if his knee has made a full recovery.
Monaco and Nadal are heavy favourites to triumph against second seeds Frantisek Cermak
and Lukas Dlouhy
today. The unknown pair have only played together five times and are both ranked outside the top 30 doubles players in the world. On paper this should be a routine workout for Nadal but interest is high in his performance after an extended absence away from the court.
Nadal has played with Monaco in three previous doubles events, with their best showing to date coming in Paris five years ago where they reached the last eight. The small clay-court opener in Chile is usually a peripheral ATP 250 tour event but Nadal's addition has brought media flocking from across South America to see the king of Roland Garros.
The 26-year-old is rumoured to have received a large fee to play in Chile, with an appearance at the Brasil Open in Sao Paulo planned for next week.
Nadal spent time practising with local star Nicolas Mahut yesterday and admitted that he expects to feel some discomfort in his knee throughout his early matches back on court. His uncle Toni Nadal told reporters: "The knee is much better, but they've told us he will feel some discomfort and lack of mobility until the end of the month. But it's definitely getting better.
"His game is much better than when we got here. It was better yesterday and even better today. We're looking to the doubles as an added test."
Nadal has drawn a large crowd for his return in the searing heat of Chile but at least he can look forward to playing on his preferred clay surface. The former world number one's return to the red surface is in preparation for the French Open, where he will hope to win the men's singles title for an unprecedented eighth time.
The injury's early prognosis had Nadal lined up to return at the Australian Open last month but he was laid low by a virus which set his recovery back by a further month. I'm sure long-time rivals Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray
will be interested onlookers this evening.
Nadal's absence has allowed Murray in particular to stamp his authority on the tour, with the Scot reaching three successive Grand Slam finals since the Spaniard got injured.
Nadal's Czech opponents are ready to come out on the court but we await the arrival of Nadal and Moncao. An odd choice of Queen's 'We Will Rock You' is thumping out of the sound system on court, not in keeping with the picturesque setting of sun-kissed South America.
After keeping an expectant crowd waiting for five minutes here comes the man of the hour! He looks pretty relaxed and is sharing a few laughs with doubles partner Monaco on his way out on court.
Here come Nadal's trademark pre-match routines. Is he the most superstitious sportsmen of all time? Both water bottles have been placed in the correct position after careful consideration, a trait which has driven opponents mad over the years.
The Czech duo will get little support today but are serious professionals and will be desperate to claim a major scalp. They look serious and considered as both players warm up with a hit across court.
Nadal's knee is visibly strapped. Let's see how it holds up to a first competitive clash for more than seven months.
Both teams are lining up their final few practice serves and play should be underway in the next few minutes. With Nadal on court we should know to expect nothing less than a delay to proceedings.
Nadal serves up two final wide serves and decides he has had enough preparation. Monaco follows him to their chairs and we are just about ready to get underway.
The Czech duo will serve first, with Nadal returning to Cermak at the back of the court. He wins his first point back with the help of a fierce Monaco volley at the net.
Nadal tries to follow up with a slice across court but his attempt drifts wide and allows the Czech's to level at 30-30 in the opening game.
Cermak serves a timely ace just out of Nadal's reach deep at the baseline to earn an early hold. No signs of visible problems in that troublesome knee for the Spaniard in the first game. Juan Monaco will serve first for the experienced pair.
In just under a minute Monaco holds to love thanks to a pair of ferocious forehand volleys from Nadal. The two are clearly used to playing together and have made a confident start.
Nadal reverts to type with some fine forehand shots at the baseline for his effort cannot stop Dlohy earning a routine serve with some strong variety on serve. Rafa's turn to serve is coming up next!
No signs of nerves on serve as Nadal gets Monaco to duck at the net in order to fire a powerful strike down the middle to bring up game point.
And just like that Nadal earns a comfortable hold with as a change in pace deceives Cermak out wide. The Spaniard has never been known for his fierce serve but looks in good form today.
Cermak is by far the biggest player on court and uses his strength to force a pair of mistakes from Nadal and build a 3-0 lead on serve. It may take the 11-time Grand Slam winner a few matches to build those incredible powers of recovery at the baseline that made him so difficult to beat.
The Czechs earn their third straight service game and both duos are still looking to make a breakthrough in the first set. Nadal looks relatively assured but is definitely easing his way back into action and that is no surprise.
Nadal shows nice touch at the net to slam home a powerful volley and avert some pressure on the Monaco serve. A tight game is deadlocked at 30-30.
The Spaniard is starting to stamp his authority on the match and helps Monaco save break point before unleashing a forehand winner to earn the pair an important hold. Dlouhy in particular had chances to force a vital break of serve but could not find a passing winner when it counted.
Dlouhy looks annoyed and takes his anger out on the ball to quickly put his service game bed and keeps the Czechs ahead with the first set still on serve. Nadal will serve for the second time in the next game!
Nadal shows a few signs of tightening up on his first serve but still has enough to grind out a hold and we are still yet to see a break of serve in the match. Expect to see some pressure from the Spaniard on Cermark's second serve in the next service game in an effort to gain the upper hand.
BREAK POINT! Nadal proves me right and has Cermak struggling with a deft touch at the baseline to earn three break points.
SET! The Czechs contest a line call but the umpire is not interested and Nadal and Monaco break to lvoe to claim the opening set by six games to three. After an initial period to settle in the players with more experience and quality have begun to show their class on their favourite clay surface.
Monaco wastes no time in playing his part to earn a routine hold and put him and Nadal ahead in the first game of the second set. Nadal has shown no signs of discomfort but would ideally like to get this match wrapped up in straight sets before too long becasue he is due back on court tomorrow in singles action.
Cermak is showing some fight on serve but Nadal and Monaco take it in turns to hit baseline winners to force his service game to deuce. This game is probably make or break for the Czechs in terms of any remote possibility of a comeback.
BREAK! Nadal shows his ruthless side to earn a second consecutive break and put the match beyond doubt early in the second set. The Spaniard is back on serve in the third game and slides across court in trademark style to win his best point of the match so far.
Monaco is taking this match very seriously and despite a strong lead screams at himself for missing a backhand volley at the net. With that level of intensity you can see why him and Nadal are such firm friends.
Nadal serves an ace with a brilliant wide slice to keep his run of successive holds going and extend his solidify his team's advantage in the second set.
Dlouhy is on serve and draws a smile from Nadal with a bullet delivery down the middle.
Finally the Czech pair get their first hold of the second set but it has likely come too late to mount any kind of challenge for the match. Monaco is now on serve with Nadal lurking with a determined expression at the net.
Monaco does not put enough power behind two second serves and Dlouhy swats them both aside to earn the Czechs a break point. Maybe I spoke too soon!
The Argentine regains his composure and with the help of Nadal's assured manner at the net recovers to get the hold from break-point down. A rare chance for the Czechs to break is quickly gone and the second seeds now look destined to be knocked out.
Cermak has just enough to keep Nadal at bay in a series of baseline exchanges to keep the match alive with an important hold. All eyes will now fall on the Spaniard once again as he goes back on serve with the second set in his sights.
The tall Czech has not given this match up and sends a superb forehand past Monaco and just inside the baseline to make the score 30-30 on Nadal's serve.
Nadal recovers from break-point down and takes advantage of some unforced errors to earn a hard-fought hold in what will be his final service game of the match. He looked a little tired for the first time in that game but after seven months we can let him get away with some signs of fatigue, can't we?
GAME SET AND MATCH! Nadal comes in from deep behind the baseline to unleash a rasping forehand drive down the line and in turn secure match point on his competitive return. The Spanish star looked confident and did not struggle with his knee at any stage of the match.
Nadal has his knee strapped throughout but after a tentative start was soon showing glimpses of the tenacious play we have come to expect. He will be back on court tomorrow in singles action, be sure to join us at Sports Mole for live text commentary of that match.
Thanks for joining us and goodnight!