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Rising Star Thomaz Bellucci Looks to Break Through

Posted on March 11, 2010 by Rob York
2010 Australian Open - Day 2

Thomaz Bellucci's left-handed forehand is already a formidable weapon.

Things a tennis player ought to have by age 22:

Overpowering forehand: Check.
Safe, consistent backhand:
Heavy, effective serve:

Lean but stout build (a la Novak Djokovic): Check
At least one tour title: Check
Deep run in a major: Uhm …

Currently No. 32, Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci is one of the least-known players in the world’s top 50. That has the potential to change — and soon — but whether or not it does will largely depend on factors other than his physical gifts.

The tools are there, and have already been demonstrated in the young Brazilian’s two career titles, last year at Gstaad in August, then in February in Santiago. Of these two clay court wins, his result in Switzerland would have to be considered the more impressive in terms of volume, as he came through qualifying to win seven matches and take his first title.

Though rather fortunate that the very tough German Nicolas Kiefer withdrew after winning the first set from Bellucci, the young Brazilian scored several impressive wins in the process: He topped the No. 2 Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka fell in the first round, then Russia’s mini-Nadal, Igor Andreev in the semis, and finally German Andreas Beck in the final. In doing so, he added his first tour title to his six Challenger wins.

This result propelled him into the top 100, requiring him to win fewer rounds in his successful Chilean campaign this winter. This proved fortuitous, as the youth’s legs were tested in multiple three-setters, including in a semifinal win over the game’s Biggest Forehand of them all: Fernando Gonzalez. That Bellucci beat 11th-ranked Gonzo in the semis, then came back immediately to top the very tough Argentine Juan Monaco in three says much about his growing poise.

Mental growth would accentuate a game that is already healthy: Bellucci’s forehand packs a wallop, and the fact that he is a southpaw helps distinguish his product in a market saturated with hard-hitting righties. His serve, while not to be confused with fellow member of the 6’2” club Andy Roddick, often demonstrates enough kick to send opponents into neighboring area codes for returns.

While Bellucci is not yet at a stage where a lack of Grand Slam success indicates significant trouble, his struggle in the majors remains the greatest void on his résumé. To date, Bellucci has won just one match apiece at Wimbledon and the Australian Open, and reached the US Open’s second round in both 2008 and 2009.

Heineken Open - Day 1

With two titles, Thomas Bellucci now hunts for Grand Slam success.

Oddly, though his two tournament wins came on clay, he has yet to win a match on the dirt of Roland Garros. The lack of wins, however, masks one of his greater “achievements”: Before Rafael Nadal began the most dominant Grand Slam performance in modern men’s tennis at the 2008 RG, Bellucci very nearly took set one of their first round encounter.

After winning three rounds of qualifying, the upstart Brazilian broke Nadal three times, pushing him to 7-5 in the first set. After that, Nadal won all but four games and was never threatened again, in the match or the tournament. In the semis, Novak Djokovic was the only other player able to win more then four games in a set from the Spaniard during that tournament.

With a luckier draw this time, Bellucci may well be setting himself up for an improved run at this year’s RG. He can continue his progress at the BMW Tennis Championship in Sunrise, Florida, starting March 14. There he will join top 20 players Mikhail Youzhny and Gilles Simon, plus world No. 27 Nicolas Almagro and No. 31 Jurgen Melzer.

Should Bellucci eventually reach the top 10, he’d be the first Brazilian to do so since three-time RG champion Gustavo Kuerten. While it’d take big results later in the season to achieve that, the promising young player’s self-belief can only grow with a win here. With more confidence, the gaps in his CV will soon be gone.

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