Rafael Nadal turns small tournament into big deal


Rafael Nadal turns small tournament into big deal

VINA DEL MAR, Chile (AP) They were giving the tickets away a year ago - and still had a difficult time attracting fans.

It's a different story this year at the VTR Open, a small ATP clay-court tournament in this resort city on Chile's Pacific coast. This is where Rafael Nadal has decided to make his comeback after sitting out for more than seven months with an injured left knee.

Nadal had never been to Chile, much less played an event here. Now he's being treated like a native son with local newspapers digging up his connections to distant family members in the country. Chilean President Sebastian Pinera was one of the first to greet him when he arrived.

Call it the Nadal Effect.

``This country wants success and wants to be seen as successful,'' said tournament press officer Rafael Walker. ``For a long time the country was like a little island, isolated from the world by the sea and mountains. So when you get a big star here - like Nadal - he's treated like a rock star.''

The tournament is sold out starting Tuesday when Nadal opens in doubles with partner Juan Monaco. He gets a bye into the second round of singles and starts Wednesday against little-known Argentine Guido Pella or a qualifier.

``All the sponsors used to hand out tickets to clients, and they weren't used. They will be used this time,'' Walker said. ``The local television stations that used to send out their second-level talent are sending out their top people. You can see them already here posing for photos with Nadal and asking for photographs. You know, acting like kids.''

Tourism officials are hoping Nadal's appearance boosts local business, which took a hit last month with overcast skies discouraging beachgoers during the South American summer. Visitors from neighboring Argentina have also stayed away, hurt by a devaluation of the local currency that has made travel expensive.

The seven-time French Open champion practiced for almost two hours Sunday on the main stadium court, facing fellow Spaniard Pablo Andujar with Nadal's uncle Toni - also his coach - right behind him fetching balls.

The only hint that Nadal may be less than 100 percent was a white bandage wrapped around his left knee. Otherwise, there was plenty of pop in his high-bouncing forehands. And he showed off the same muscular physique when he changed orange shirts midway through practice.

The 26-year-old Nadal should win this event, and if he doesn't, speculation will immediately begin about his future. He's trying to play down his chances, telling reporters Saturday he was hoping for an ``acceptable level'' as he starts the first of three clay-court events in Latin America. They're warm-ups for a run at his 12th Grand Slam title, and an eighth at the French Open.

``This should be like the first week of Roland Garros for him,''' said Marcelo Caro, a tennis coach who drove 100 miles from the Chilean capital Santiago to watch Nadal practice Sunday. ``In theory, he shouldn't lose a set because the competition is not at his level - if he doesn't get injured.''

Another injury would be a crushing blow for the Spaniard, who is ending his longest stretch away from the game.

Several hundred people watched Nadal practice, with Toni Nadal chatting with fans at courtside. At one point Nadal posed for photos with a baby on his lap, and he autographed tennis balls, copies of his book and T-shirts as he navigated the 150 feet from the court to the shelter of the locker room.

``Nadal is like an industry,'' Caro said. ``He generates a lot of money.''

Nadal is reported to have received hefty appearance money to play in Chile, though tournament officials have not confirmed it. The venue is not ideal for a comeback. The tournament site - Club Las Salinas - is located within view of the ocean and is traditionally windy and often chilly.

Nadal fills a need in Chile. Its longtime top player, Fernando Gonzalez, retired last year, leaving the country without a star. Paul Capdeville is the country's highest ranked player at No. 153, and he failed to qualify for the tournament. That leaves only two Chileans in the field - No. 577 Nicolas Massu and Christian Garin, ranked 923rd.

``For the tournament, Nadal being here is unbelievable,'' said German player Dustin Brown. ``And it's great for the players, as long as you don't have to play Nadal.''

Jaquelina Frez and her daughter, Dalal Chahuan, drove 30 miles from the nearby town of La Calera to watch practice. They will skip the tournament, partly because of high ticket prices.

``I know the prices have gone up from other years,'' Frez said.

Her 17-year-old daughter is an accomplished amateur player, and she raced to the court exit after practice to snap a photo.

``He's a celebrity, and you want to see him if you like tennis, or don't like tennis,'' Dalal said. ``He brings attention to the area and excitement to the fans.''

Not to mention a boost to some local bank accounts.


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3 reasons the Caps beat the Stars

3 reasons the Caps beat the Stars

The Washington Capitals had not beaten the Dallas Stars at home since 2006, Alex Ovechkin's second season in the NHL. That streak ended on Tuesday in a 4-3 Caps win.

Here's how the Caps were finally able to down Dallas in Washington.

Oshie still hot

After going 19 straight games without a goal, T.J. Oshie has been red-hot of late with four goals in his last four games. He scored Washington’s first goal in what would become a three-goal period for the Caps as they battled back from a 1-0 deficit into a 3-3 tie through 40 minutes. Oshie also added an assist as he won a power play faceoff that John Carlson fed to Alex Ovechkin for the goal.


Ovechkin victimizing his favorite target

You knew Ovechkin would score given he was playing against one of his favorite targets. With his second period goal, Ovechkin now has 22 goals against Kari Lehtonen in his career, tied with Henrik Lundqvist for the most goals he has scored on any netminder. Lehtonen has not been in the Eastern Conference since the 2008-09 season. When he goes to sleep at night, Ovechkin is who he sees in his nightmares.

The Carlson-Klingberg duel

Carlson and John Klingberg entered Tuesday’s game each with 59 points, tied for the league lead in points among defensemen. Carlson downplayed the matchup both before and after the game, but it was clear that both players were playing at another level all game long. While both players tallied two points on the night, you have to give the win to Carlson as he had the most significant point, a game-winning goal in the third period.


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Redskins make contract offer to pass rusher Pernell McPhee, per report


Redskins make contract offer to pass rusher Pernell McPhee, per report

Free agent pass rusher Pernell McPhee visited the Redskins on Monday, and by Tuesday night a report emerged that Washington offered the veteran outside linebacker a contract.

Last week, Trent Murphy signed with the Buffalo Bills and things remain uncertain between the Redskins and Junior Galette. That means the organization has a need for an edge rushing linebacker, and that's exactly the role McPhee can play. 

A 29-year-old that played the last three seasons with the Bears, McPhee posted 14 sacks while in Chicago. Prior to his time with the Bears, McPhee was a solid contributor on some good Ravens teams. 


His best season in Baltimore came in 2014 when he posted 7.5 sacks. That's also the last season McPhee played a full 16 game schedule. He's missed 12 games over the last three years in Chicago. 

McPhee could provide the Redskins with solid veteran depth at outside linebacker, and he's also considered a plus defender against the run. With Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith cemented as the starting outside linebackers, if signed, McPhee would pair up with Ryan Anderson on Washington's second unit. At 6-foot-2 and 275 lbs., McPhee carries more weight on his frame than either Kerrigan or Smith. 

Pro Football Focus gave McPhee a strong grade for the 2017 season. He notched a +11.5 and ranked 13th out of 46 outside linebackers graded. For comparison, Broncos star Von Miller ranked 1st at +57, Kerrigan ranked 8th at +22.9 and Galette ranked 10th at +16.2.

It's unclear what a move for McPhee would mean between the Redskins and Galette, but it's hard to imagine it helps.

Free agent Johnathan Hankins also visited Washington on Monday, and while he plays an interior defensive line position different from McPhee, it's also unclear what this offer would do to any negotiations between the Redskins and Hankins. 

Want more Redskins? Click here to follow JP on Facebook and check out @JPFinlayNBCS for live updates via Twitter! Click here for the #RedskinsTalk on Apple Podcastshere for Google Play or press play below. Don't forget to subscribe!