WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S.A. – It’s been eleven years since a Latin American was placed atop the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) rankings.
But after Brazil’s Gustavo Kuerten accomplished the feat in 2001, another Brazilian – Thomaz Belluci – is focused on reaching the top.
Belluci, 23, is ranked 36th in the world by the ATP, as he’s the third-highest ranked Latin American, behind Argentines Juan Martín del Potro (19) and Juan Ignacio Chela (22).
Belluci has improved every year since turning pro in 2005.
The 6-foot-2, 177-pound native of Tietê, a city in the state of São Paulo, won ATP tournaments in Gstaad, Switzerland (2009) and Santiago, Chile (2010), and reached the semifinals at the 2011 Madrid Masters, where he lost to eventual-champion Novak Djokovic, the world’s top-ranked player. This year, Belluci also reached the semifinals in Acapulco, where he lost to Nicolás Almagro.
In July of last year, Belluci ascended to No. 21 in the ATP rankings, the highest of his career, but he stumbled down the stretch to end the year at No. 31.
Belluci decided a change was needed. He left his coach, João Zwetsch, in October 2010 and hired Larri Passos.
Passos coached Kuerten for 15 years, leading him to victories in the French Open in 1997, 2000 and 2001.
Belluci hopes Passos leads him to similar success. He’s a strong player on clay, but he’s trying to improve his hard court game. Belluci is expected to compete in the U.S. Open – the most prestigious hard court tournament on the planet – next month in New York.
Belluci spoke with Infosurhoy.com while he was competing in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Washington, D.C., where he lost to Marcos Baghdatis in the third round.
“I don’t see myself as Kuerten’s heir,” Belluci said. “He played in another time. But we do have similar styles, in terms that we are both better playing on red clay and have potential to play hard court. I think Larry’s plan is to work those similarities and bring my strengths from clay to hard court. But anyway, we are different players, and it’s difficult to make comparisons of that sort.”
Infosurhoy: How would you rate your play this year compared to last year?
Belluci: I think I can play much better than what I have done so far. Some matches are really tight, but then I end up losing 6-4 or 7-5 in the third set. But I think with a little bit more experience, these types of games will start going my way, especially in hard court. I’m still learning to play on this surface. My best surface is clay, that’s why I have to hit the practice courts more to get better in hard court.
Infosurhoy: What specifically do you have to improve while playing on a hard court?
Belluci: The most important thing is to know how to play the points. Every point is different, both in clay and in hard court. In clay, you have to manage the ball, that’s the reason it is difficult to win a point in three strokes. In hard court everything is faster. Suddenly you are 15-30 but with a couple of aces you are back in control again. That’s the reason you must be concentrated all the time. You need to keep your head in place. But I’m improving.
Infosurhoy: What’s your plan leading to the U.S. Open?
Belluci: After playing [Masters Series] in Montreal and Cincinnati, I’ll take a week off tournaments to practice before the U.S. Open. To play in New York City is always something special. I’m very motivated. I’ll get there with more rhythm and confidence, which is very important for me.
Infosurhoy: What are you focusing on?
Belluci: We are working hard not to give to many easy points to my opponent. Also, not to make too many unforced errors. This is something that I’ve improved on lately, but there’s still a lot more to do. It will take some time to see further improvement, which I think will take months.