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Believe It: Zeballos Upsets Nadal to Win Vina Del Mar Title

Argentina's Horacio Zeballos earned the win of his career by defeating Rafael Nadal in the finals of the VTR Open

By Erik Gudris

Zeballos Nadal(February 10th, 2013) -- Before competing in the finals of the VTR Open in Vina Del Mar, Argentina's Horacio Zeballos said that he was preparing to play "God" on clay. Of course he was referring to his opponent Rafael Nadal who entered the match an overwhelming favorite despite coming off of a seven month layoff from the tour due to injury.

But in the end it was Zeballos, currently ranked No. 73, who proved he had enough faith in himself to pull off an improbable though not impossible upset victory to win his first ever career ATP title.

They had met only once prior at Roland Garros in 2010 where Nadal cruised in straight sets during their round of 64 match. Zeballos had only been in one ATP final in his career (St. Petersburg 2009), so Nadal looked poised to earn an almost de facto 51st career ATP title in front of a largely pro-Nadal crowd.

But that proved not to be the case early on as Nadal struggled early on with his serve as he saved two break points. Zeballos didn't appear to show any nerves as he stayed level with Nadal throughout the set. Both men posted love holds of serve later on and when neither man could force any real pressure with their returns, a tiebreak soon ensued.

That's when Nadal's experience shown through as Zeballos began hitting too many of his shots long allowing Nadal to open up a 5-1 lead. With a sizzling forehand winner, Nadal closed out the tiebreak seven points to two.

Zeballos didn't fade away in the second set as many expected though. He continued to go for his shots, ripping winners on his forehand and backhand sides while Nadal was forced once again to save two break points. With neither man giving an inch, the match became compelling to watch as each man responded when the other hit a winner by hitting one of their own.

After holding to love at 5-all, Zeballos stayed relaxed and looked like he was actually enjoying the moment. Nadal, on the other hand, looked subdued and may have been, like those watching, a tad shocked that his opponent was actually still in the match.

Yet again, a tiebreak was needed to decide the set and this time Zeballos played much cleaner than in the previous one. He missed out on his first two set point chances but at 6-all, Zeballos ripped a return winner to set up his third. Now it was his turn to hit a winning forehand to close out the breaker and send things into uncharted territory for Zeballos.

Nadal appeared to stamp out any hope for Zeballos when he broke the Argentine at love to open the final set. But Nadal again faced break points in the next game and though he saved two, it was the third one that got him as he tried to be too delicate with an easy volley and instead dumped it into the net.

At 3-2, Nadal still looked subdued on court despite the rising tone of the match. Did winning this title matter to him that much? In his interview with L'Equipe earlier in the week he admitted that it would be "logical" that he might lose this week considering his long break from the game. But when Nadal saved yet another break point later on at 4-3 with a perfect dipping volley reply, it was only then that he erupted with one of his trademark fist pumps. Zeballos now had "God's" attention.

Even so, it didn't break Zeballos's own belief after he held for 5-4 thus forcing Nadal to serve to stay in the match. Rather than wait for his moment, Zeballos went after it. A forehand winner followed by a deft drop shot gave him 0-30. Then Zeballos hit a running crosscourt forehand winner on the run to set up 0-40 and with it three match points.

Nadal was in the corner, and though he had fought his way out of this situation before, this was one he couldn't get out of. Nadal netted a backhand on the next point and just like the improbable became reality as Zeballos earned the biggest win and title of his career with a 6-7(2), 7-6(6), 6-4 result.

For Nadal, it was still a very successful week after seven months of uncertainty over how his knee would respond when put under pressure. Nadal will likely find many positives from his time in Chile as he heads to Sao Paulo next week on the next stop of his mini-comeback tour during the "Golden Swing". But for Zeballos, who now joins Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer as being the only men to have ever beaten Nadal in a clay-court final, this week and this victory will be one that he will likely always cherish the most as being the day he stared down "God" and won.

(Photo Credit: AP/Luis Hildalgo)

 

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