Bellucci blows away talented Belgian
As the only Brazilian tennis player ranked in the world's top 100, Thomaz Bellucci is a rare breed, not least because he emerged from a football-mad nation.
Thankfully for Bellucci, he recovered from a horror start to blow away rising Belgian ace David Goffin 7-6 (2) 6-2 in yesterday's opening round at the Heineken Open.
Seeing the tall, tanned Brazilian with a racket in hand, rather than a football at his feet, is rather odd. You get the feeling he would not be out of place up front on a footy field, heading the ball into goal.
Instead, he has won three singles titles and moved into the second round of his fifth Auckland tournament.
Not bad for a bloke from a South American country where few people play tennis.
"It's not very popular," Bellucci said.
"Not many people can play tennis in Brazil because it's not cheap to buy a racket. We don't have many players in the top 100. Everybody plays football in Brazil."
The eighth seed only chose tennis because his parents were too old to play football. He has made a solid fist of it, finishing in the top 40 for the last four years and winning US$2,600,123 (NZ$3.13 million).
Bellucci prefers clay court and initially found it tough against Goffin, falling behind 3-5 in the opening set as blustery winds made shot-making difficult. At one point, signage blew on to the court.
"The conditions for both players were very tough. It wasn't the best tennis but I'm just happy to get through to the second round," Bellucci said.
"That always happens in Auckland. It's got the most wind of all tournaments."
Strong wind surges made for a mental, rather than pure skilful, battle.
Bellucci adjusted to suit, winning five consecutive games, while the pint-sized, baby-faced Goffin self-destructed.
"I didn't start very well but I won the first set and gained a lot of confidence," Bellucci said.
"In the beginning I was trying to hit some winners which is not possible, then I tried to keep it in the middle of the court."
Later in the day, Slovakia's top ranked player, Martin Klizan, became the first ranked player to be bundled out of the tournament. Fourteen-year journeyman Xavier Malisse upset the world No 30 and 2012 newcomer of the year in three sets, winning 7-6 (5) 3-6 6-3.
Klizan fought back to win five consecutive games and the second set but could not stick with the experienced Belgian, who showed composure and temperament to take the match in just over two hours.
Afterwards, Malisse gave an insight into how difficult the conditions were.
"It's really tough. It's almost at a point where I think they shouldn't play because it's not much fun for the fans to watch as there are no rallies," he said.
"It's no fun for us to play. It's basically whoever keeps the ball in play the longest. It doesn't have to be great, pretty tennis."
Today's action features New Zealand wildcard Dan King-Turner against Canadian qualifier Jesse Levine while French firecracker, former world No 7 Gael Monfils, makes his first appearance against German Benjamin Becker.