RIO DE JANEIRO: World number three Rafael Nadal made an impressive return to competition after an Australian Open quarter-final loss, dispatching Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci 6-4, 6-1 at the ATP Rio Open.
Defending champion Nadal, a 14-time Grand Slam champion, needed only 91 minutes in advancing to a second-round matchup against either Spanish compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta or Argentina’s Carlos Berlocq.
In the host city for next year’s Olympics, 2008 Beijing Olympic gold medal winner Nadal improved to 15-0 on Brazilian soil, having won titles at Costa do Sauipe in 2005, Sao Paulo in 2013 and Rio last year.
The 28-year-old Nadal began his 2015 season in Doha, where he lost in the first round while defending his title. At the Australian Open, Nadal saw a 17-match win streak against Tomas Berdych end with a surprise exit.
Clay-court maestro Nadal, who seeks his sixth French Open title in a row and 10th overall on Roland Garros clay later this year, elevated his play in the second set of his first match on the surface since last June’s Grand Slam final victory over Novak Djokovic.
Bellucci’s third double fault of the match handed Nadal a break after five prior missed chances for a 3-2 lead, but the home hope broke back in the next game to level the opening set.
Nadal and Bellucci exchanged breaks in the next two games before Nadal broke again for a 5-4 edge and held to take the first set after 51 minutes on a service winner.
Nadal broke to start the second set and broke again at love for a 3-0 edge, taking 14 of the first 20 points contested, and held twice for a 5-1 edge.
On Nadal’s third match point chance of the seventh game, Bellucci hit a forehand long to surrender the break and the match, falling in the first round for the fourth time in five events this year.
Bellucci made 31 unforced errors to only 12 by the Spaniard.
Nadal went 25-3 on clay last year and won three titles on the surface. He has the best clay court record in the Open Era at 318-24, including 45-7 in career clay-court finals.