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Rafael Nadal turns small tournament into big deal

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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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Follow Stephen Wade athttp://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP

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With Devante Smith-Pelly back in the Caps lineup, we look back at his four goals in NBC Sports Washington's Top 20 goals from the Caps' Cup run

With Devante Smith-Pelly back in the Caps lineup, we look back at his four goals in NBC Sports Washington's Top 20 goals from the Caps' Cup run

With Devante Smith-Pelly back with the Capitals following an injury to T.J. Oshie in Game 4, Washington is hoping that DSP will be able to perform similarly to how he did during last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. With seven goals last postseason, including one in the Stanley Cup-clinching game, Smith-Pelly was a vital part of the Capitals' success.

Before he takes the ice in Game 5 on Saturday night, let's revisit some of those goals that made NBC Sports Washington's Top 20 goals from the 2018 Stanley Cup run.

17. Devante Smith-Pelly's Game 4 goal vs. Vegas

Devante Smith-Pelly scored in the first period against the Golden Knights to put the Caps up 3-0 early and secure an eventual 6-3 win for a 3-1 series lead.

14. Smith-Pelly strikes in Game 6 against Columbus

Devante Smith-Pelly's series-clinching tally in Game 6 helped Washington advance to the second round of the 2018 postseason.

13. Smith-Pelly grows the lead in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final vs. Vegas

Devante Smith-Pelly proved to be pretty clutch. He capitalized on a Golden Knights turnover to toss the puck top shelf over Fleury in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final.

4. Devante Smith-Pelly's game-tying goal in Game 5 against Vegas

About halfway through the third with the Caps down 3-2 in Game 5 of the Cup Final, Devante Smith-Pelly put the puck past Marc-Andre Fleury while falling to tie things up against Vegas.

Enjoyed that little trip to the past? Check out the full Top 20 here.

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NFL Draft prospect Tre Watson hopes to time draft night around 'Avengers' release

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NFL Draft prospect Tre Watson hopes to time draft night around 'Avengers' release

Thursday night will be a very important moment in the life of former Maryland linebacker Tre Watson.

At midnight, the highly-anticipated Marvel movie Avengers: Endgame will hit the big screen for general audiences to see, bringing the conclusion to a decade worth of popular films. Watson, like millions of others, has been counting down the days until he could see the Avengers and Thanos go at it one more time.

Oh, and Thursday also marks the beginning of the 2019 NFL Draft, where Watson will most likely hear his name called at some point over the three-day span.

While Watson will be tuning into the draft that night, he understands that his moment of recognition may come a little later on in the week. Therefore, Thursday is all about 'Avengers'.

"Fortunately, you know, I'm kind of realistic. I know I'm not going to be a first-round pick," Watson said in an interview on NFL Network. "So I'll just be watching that just kind of for the formality of it, I'm definitely excited for 'Avengers' and then I kind of will springboard into Day 2 and Day 3 where I'm hoping to hear my name called. It's really a perfect set up for me, honestly."

This isn't the first time that Watson has let it be known to the world that he is a dedicated Marvel fan. His Twitter feed is filled with thoughts on the movie, including a tweet from a few months back that took the internet by storm.

The first round of the draft still does have some intrigue for Watson, as his former teammate Darnell Savage Jr. has gained a lot of steam during the draft process and has a chance to be chosen on Thursday night. However, Watson will hope that Savage's name is called earlier in the night rather than later, as he will need time to get to the theatre to prepare to watch  Captain America and company save the day one last time. 

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