Posted: Mon February 4, 2013 12:31PM; Updated: Mon February 4, 2013 12:21PM
Jon Wertheim
Jon Wertheim>INSIDE TENNIS

Best of Three: All eyes on Nadal in return from knee injury

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Rafael Nadal
Rafael Nadal, practicing under the watchful eye of coach and uncle Toni Nadal, hasn't played since June.
Eliseo Fernandez/Reuters

Rafa returns: When we last saw Rafael Nadal, he was inexplicably losing to a qualifier named Lukas Rosol at Wimbledon in June, one of the great upsets in the Open Era. Since then, of course, he's been sidelined by knee injuries. The game has moved on: They held an Olympic tennis event; each of the other Big Four members -- Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray -- won a Grand Slam tournament; and Spain already was eliminated from 2013 Davis Cup. But Nadal has been missed, a star cast member whose absence has diminished the series.

We've known for years that Nadal's violent style of tennis militates against full health. We've known for years that his knees are something other than durable. He's missed significant segments of the schedule in the past. But this hiatus was particularly troubling. His return date continued to fluctuate. His public appearances and statements were limited. Amid a climate of skepticism a whispering campaign became audible, so much so that Nadal's publicist openly refuted doping insinuations.

All of which is to say, Nadal's comeback this week at the Chile Open draws particular interest. (He plays his first singles match Wednesday against No. 92 Guido Pella of Argentina or a qualifier.) What will he look like? What will he say? How will he move around the court?

The actual results won't much matter, as any scenario can be easily dismissed. If he wins the event, great. But he's tanned and rested and the King of Clay; we expect him to win a low-level event that he never deigned to play in the past. If he loses, well, he just suffers from some ring rust. No big deal. What will be more interesting: Where is Nadal physically? Where is he metaphysically?

NGUYEN: Previewing the week in tennis

Davis Cup drama: Canada's victory against five-time champion Spain in Vancouver headlined the Davis Cup results from the weekend. The Spaniards, playing without their top four of Nadal, David Ferrer, Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco, lost in the first round for the first time since 2006. Canada advanced to the quarterfinals for the first time. Frank Dancevic (ranked No. 166 last week) was the showstopper, crushing No. 34 Marcel Granollers 6-1 6-2 6-2, while Milos Raonic's defeated Albert Ramos and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Meanwhile, in front of a distressingly sparse crowd in Jacksonville, Fla., the United States held off an admirably tough Brazilian team. Sam Querrey won the decisive fifth match against Thiago Alves in a bizarre tie that saw John Isner and the doubles team of Bob and Mike Bryan lose five-setters.

DAILY BAGEL: Isner upset with himself, Brazilian fans

On the heels of his disappointment in Melbourne, poor Stan Wawrinka lost twice, including a seven-hour doubles match (the longest match in Davis Cup history), as a Federer-less Swiss team fell to the defending champion Czechs.

Click here for all of the Davis Cup results.

Tennis loses two titans: Two important figures in the game died in recent days. Paul Flory, who ran the Cincinnati tournament for almost 40 years and transformed it from a mom-and-pop tour stop to a Masters event, died at age 90 last week. And Hunter Delatour, "tennis' last gentleman" and former president of the USTA and International Hall of Fame, died at 95 two weeks ago.

Bonus Points

• Mona Barthel, a favorite in these parts, won the biggest title of her young career, upsetting Sara Errani in the final of the Open GDF Suez in Paris. The 22-year-old German also defeated Roberta Vinci and Marion Bartoli en route to her first Premier title. Barthel climbed from No. 45 to No. 28 in this week's WTA rankings.

• Maria Kirilenko won the Pattaya Open in Thailand, rallying past Sabina Lisicki 5-7, 6-1, 7-6 (1) in the final. Kimiko Date-Krumm, 42, teamed with Casey Dellacqua to take the doubles.

• Ryan Harrison's younger brother, Christian, 18, won a Futures tournament in Sheffield, England, for his first professional singles title.

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