Rafael Nadal. Photo: Reuters
Rafael Nadal looked sharp on Saturday as he booked a finals berth in an ATP South American claycourt tournament, his first event back from a seven-month injury absence.
Nadal needed just 64 minutes to defeat third-seeded Frenchman Jeremy Chardy 6-2 6-2.
The former world No.1, ranked fifth in the world, raced to a 4-0 lead before Chardy was finally able to hold serve.
The Spaniard closed out the opening set after little more than half an hour, pulling Chardy wide with a deep ball to the corner then blasting an overhead winner into the open court.
He broke Chardy to love in the third game of the second set to gain the upper hand, then saved three break points in the sixth game to maintain his advantage.
He broke Chardy for a 5-2 lead and took the contest with an ace on his second match point to book a title clash with Argentine Horacio Zeballos.
Zeballos, ranked 73rd in the world, reached his second ATP final with a 6-3 7-6 (7-4) victory over eighth-seeded compatriot Carlos Berlocq.
Zeballos has beaten three straight seeded opponents on his way to the title match, which will be his first since he was runner-up at St Petersburg in 2009.
Nadal and Zeballos have met once before. Nadal beat the Argentine in straight sets in the Roland Garros second round in 2010 en route to one of the seven French Open titles among his 11 grand slam triumphs.
Nadal's 2012 French triumph was his last title. Until this week, the Spaniard had not played since a shock second-round exit from Wimbledon in June at the hands of Czech journeyman Lukas Rosol.
A torn tendon and inflammation in his left knee kept Nadal out of the London Olympics and the US Open.
A virus delayed his return, which he had hoped to make at the Australian Open.
Nadal, 26, plans to compete in claycourt events in Brazil and Mexico before playing ATP Masters hardcourt events at Indian Wells and Miami and then heading to Europe for clay events in Monte Carlo, Barcelona and Rome ahead of the French Open.