Rafael Nadal won his first of two matches Friday in a test of his sore left knee, defeating fellow Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-1, 6-4 to reach the semifinals of the VTR Open.
Nadal had not played for seven months until he took the court earlier this week in the Pacific coastal resort city. With a doubles match set for later Friday, Nadal will have played five matches in four days. He's yet to lose a set.
If he wins in doubles, he'll play two more matches Saturday — the doubles final and a singles semifinal.
"It was a very satisfying result against a tough opponent," Nadal said. "Everything went well and being in the semifinals is a good start after seven months without playing. Truthfully, I've had a good feeling since I got here, having the fans here supporting me."
Nadal and Juan Monaco faced Argentines Carlos Berlocq and Leonardo Mayer later in doubles, and Nadal plays either Jeremy Chardy or Paolo Lorenzi in the semifinals Saturday.
The Spaniard's goal is to get back to the top and challenge the other three of tennis' Big Four: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
Nadal took the court Friday with temperatures hovering around 85 degrees in the middle of the South American summer. He is likely to encounter similar temperatures when he plays next week in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and later this month in Acapulco, Mexico.
He had no trouble in the first set. In the sixth game he chased down several shots without seeming to fear for his knee. The second set was tougher, but Nadal showed the victory really mattered when he clenched his left fist on a winning passing shot in the ninth game as he broke Gimeno-Traver to lead 5-4.
Nadal has said he's not focused on results as he uses the Latin American clay-court events to hone his game. But most fans will expect the most dominant clay-court player in history — he has won 93 percent of his singles matches on the surface — to win all three tournaments and show he's ready to challenge for an eighth French Open title come May. Nadal will turn 27 in the middle of the French Open.