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Rafael Nadal almost secured a successful comeback from injury last week after the 11-time Grand Slam champion eased into the final of the Vina del Mar tournament in Chile, but lost at the last hurdle to give him a major reality check.

Nadal, who was playing is first competitive tournament in eight months, lost 6-7 7-6 6-4 to Horacio Zeballos in a gruelling match where serves dominated. The Spaniard simply couldn’t get hold of his opponent’s serves at the back of the clay court and at times looked a shadow of his former self – often choosing to let balls go rather than run them down.

This is not like Nadal, but, then again, Nadal is not the same player he was when he won the French Open last year. Since then, the chronic tendinitis in the knees has returned, he tore his patella tendon and suffered from illness over the winter break. Eight months out is a long time and few expected Nadal to even make the final last week but make no mistake, the player wanted that title.

“I’m lacking the reaction speed, energy, and leg strength I need in order to give my balls more depth, things that I have had throughout my career,” the 26-year-old told reporters. “I played with everything I had and today I had nothing.”

Indeed, in the end he had nothing, as Zeballos, playing in only his second tour final, served out the last game to love. Nadal just couldn’t handle the world number 43, which many fans in the betting world think came as a surprise to the Spaniard.

Evidently, Vina del Mar acted as a reality check for Nadal and his preparations for Roland Garros will be closely scrutinised by his camp. The world number four is by no means a has-been but clearly more work needs to be done if he is to return to his former self.

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