Sao Paulo - Rafael Nadal's presence at the Brazil Open here this week is a welcome boost to the minnow event, part of the latin American clay court circuit he is using to prepare his return to the top after a lengthy injury absence.
The 11-time Grand Slam champion, who lost the singles and doubles finals Sunday at his comeback event in Vina del Mar, Chile, is the top seed at the February 11-17 Open here.
Vina del Mar, Sao Paulo and the Mexico Open in Acapulco where the 26-year-old Spaniard will play later this month are routinely ignored by the world's top three players: Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Andy Murray.
Considered the world's best clay court player, Nadal was back in Chile for the first time since a surprise second-round exit at Wimbledon in June.
Since then he had been sidelined by a torn tendon and inflammation in his left knee, with his return this year further delayed by a virus.
Organizers of the $455 775 Brazil Open at Sao Paulo's Ibirapuera gymnasium see the presence of the world's number five-ranked player as a shot in the arm.
"We have seen a significant increase in ticket sales as a result. Nearly 60 percent of the total has already been sold and the daily maximum capacity is 9 300 seats," a spokesperson for the event told AFP.
Nadal, who has claimed seven of his 11 Grand Slam titles on the clay courts of Roland Garros, won the Brazil Open in 2005 when it was held in Costa do Sauipe in eastern Bahia state. The tournament was moved to Sao Paulo last year when Spaniard Nicolas Almagro won.
Almagro, ranked 11th in the world, is seeded second here this year while world number 12 Juan Monaco of Argentina is third.
The best local hope is Thomaz Belluci, who said he hoped to play Nadal in the semi-final.
"It would be a very special moment in my career," said the Brazilian, who is ranked 33rd in the world, said.
"The presence of Nadal is very beneficial because as a result many more people follow tennis and it boosts the prestige of the event," he added.
Since 2004, The Brazil Open has been part of the South American clay court circuit but it was held on hard courts prior to 2004.
Nadal will first see action Tuesday when he teams up with Argentine David Nalbandian to face the Spanish pair of Pablo Andujar and Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.
As first seed, he will debut in the singles second round against an as yet undetermined opponent later this week.
"I would like to wish all Brazilians a good Carnival," he said on his Twitter account.
In Vina del Mar, he played down his expectations, saying he still felt some pain in the knee and just wanted to get in as many matches as possible to regain his sharpness.
Nadal, who missed the London Olympics, the US Open and Australian Open, has said that he's not yet thinking about defending his title at Roland Garros in May.
In Rotterdam, Federer welcomed the return of "Rafa" as Nadal is known.
"I'm happy to see him back and playing on the Tour...That's a good thing." the world No 2 said ahead of a late Wednesday start at the Rotterdam tournament.