Getting to know...Thomaz Bellucci
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
By Eric Frosio
The Brazilian smiles after cruising through to the second round in straight sets. © FFT
After making a name for himself in 2009, Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci is now ranked world No.29. His dream: to follow in the footsteps of his idol Gustavo Kuerton, three-time winner of the French Open.
In 1997, the lofty long-haired ‘Guga’ Kuerton arrived in Paris with a suitcase full of multicoloured outfits and a hotel reservation at the Mont-Blanc, not the most prestigious of establishments. As he smashed his way through to the French Open final (defeating Muster, Medvedev and Kafelnikov along the way), Brazil discovered a new sport. By the time Guga dispatched Sergi Bruguera in the final, Brazil and tennis were new best friends.
“Before Guga, Brazilians thought tennis meant tennis shoes.”
For most Brazilians, the rules of tennis were a mystery. Diana Gabanyi, Kuerten’s press agent, even found herself explaining the basics – enigmas such as ‘tie-breaks’, ‘aces’, ‘clay courts’ and ‘Grand Slams’ – to journalists. “Before Guga, Brazilians thought tennis meant tennis shoes… Most people knew absolutely nothing about it. Thanks to Guga, Brazil really got into the sport.”
In 1997, Thomaz Bellucci was ten years old. His family lived in Tieté, São Paulo, where he followed his predecessor’s every move on TV. “I remember watching Guga in ’97,” says Bellucci. “I was crazy about him. Brazil was only just discovering tennis, the whole country was behind him. It was incredible.” And history repeated itself a mere three years later, when Guga beat Norman in the 2000 French Open final, and Corretja the following year. “The tournament was a real turning point in Brazil’s history. For us, the French Open is THE tournament to win,” gushes the Brazilian left-hander.
Bellucci, no stranger to success
For the world No.29, things look good this year. On Monday, he sent Michaël Llodra packing in straight sets (6-4, 6-4, 6-2), boasting an aggressive and precise game. The Brazilian’s success is impressive: ranked world No.199 in 2007, he moved up to No.90 in 2008 and No.36 in 2009 with a first circuit win at Gstaad.
His current ranking comes on the heels of a second title at Santiago, Chile, where he once again played on the red dirt. “I’ve made a lot of progress, because I’ve been working hard,” he says. “I’ve been really focussed, and I’ve grown up a lot. I’m hoping to finish in the top 20 this year.”
"Guga: an example, not an encumbrance”
Bellucci has some catching up to do if he wants to match Guga. While the Brazilian contingent includes Tiago Fernandes, winner of the junior Australian Open, tennis players are still a rarity. Bellucci is by far the best tennis player in the country. At 22 years old, he’s not letting the pressure get to him.
“It’s inevitable that people compare me to Guga. It doesn’t bother me. I don’t put any more pressure on myself because of Guga. I prefer to learn from his experience whenever we meet. He gives me advice on managing my career. Guga is an example, not an encumbrance.” The kind of example he’d like to follow… “But if I win, I won’t be drawing a heart on court like Guga did. I’ll draw something different.”