- Rafael Nadal reaches semifinals of Chilean event in his long-awaited comeback
- He beats compatriot Daniel Gimeno-Traver to set up clash with Jeremy Chardy
- Spaniard also through to the final of the doubles event in Vina del Mar
- He and Juan Monaco will play Italians Paolo Lorenzi and Potito Starace
Slowly but surely, Rafael Nadal is feeling his confidence come back.
Three days into his return to the ATP World Tour after a seven-month absence, the former world No. 1 has reached the singles semifinals of the VTR Open in Chile and also earned a shot at the doubles title.
"Today I had more confidence than the other days," Nadal said after Friday's victory over seventh-seeded fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver.
"That is positive. It gives me confidence, and reasons to believe that I'm on the right way. I'm happy to win in singles against a tough opponent like Dani and to reach the semifinals after seven months."
Having not played since his shock second-round defeat at Wimbledon late last June, the 11-time grand slam champion has slipped to fifth in the rankings as he has battled knee problems and then an stomach illness that forced him to miss the Australian Open.
"In this tournament I had a good feeling. The crowd gave me their support all the time. It helps a lot when you come with a bad feeling," said the 26-year-old, who was to play French third seed Jeremy Chardy in Saturday's semifinals.
The seven-time French Open champion is seeking his 37th title on clay, having stretched his Open era win record to 256-19 on the surface.
If he beats Chardy, he will face an Argentine in the final after 73rd-ranked Horacio Zeballos reached his first ATP semi with victory over fifth seed Albert Ramos.
The 27-year-old will play eighth-seeded compatriot Carlos Berlocq, the world No. 81 who lost to Nadal's doubles partner Juan Monaco in last year's final at Vina del Mar.
Nadal will be seeking the eighth doubles title of his career when he and Monaco play Italians Paolo Lorenzi and Potito Starace.
They progressed with a 6-3 6-4 win over Berlocq and Leonardo Mayer.
Meanwhile, Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova gave Fed Cup champions the Czech Republic a 2-0 lead over Australia after the first day of their World Group tie in Ostrava on Saturday.
Former Wimbledon champion Kvitova beat 168th-ranked Jarmila Gajdosova 7-6 (7-2) 6-3, then world No. 18 Safarova upset No. 9 Samantha Stosur 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4).
Kvitova can put the Czechs into the semifinals by beating former U.S. Open champion Stosur in Sunday's opening reverse singles.
Serbia, beaten in last year's final, received a lifeline when Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova retired due to severe cramps when leading 6-4 5-4 against Vesna Dolonc in Nis.
Daniela Hantuchova had earlier won 7-5 6-2 against Bojana Jovanovski, elevated to No. 1 in the home Serbian team due to the late withdrawals of former world No. 1s Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic through injury.
Japan and Russia were also tied 1-1 in Moscow, where world No. 57 Ayumi Morita leveled the best-of-five match with a 6-2 6-2 win over 20th-ranked Ekaterina Makarova.
Maria Kirilenko, at 13th the highest-ranked player in the first-round tie, won the opening singles rubber 7-6 (7-3) 6-4 against 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm.
The United States fought back to level at 1-1 against Italy as Varvara Lepchenko beat Roberta Vinci 2-6 6-4 7-5 in Rimini.
Last year's French Open finalist Sara Errani defeated 64th-ranked Jamie Hampton 6-2 6-1 in the opening match.
The U.S. team is without the Williams sisters Serena and Venus as well as Australian Open semifinalist Sloane Stephens.