RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Top-seeded Rafael Nadal defeated Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil at the Rio Open on Tuesday, winning 6-4, 6-1 in his first clay-court match of the season.
Nadal had already suffered two early-season losses away from his favored clay surface, so the red clay was a welcome change.
The Spaniard has won nine of the last 10 French Opens and uses the clay-court season in Latin America as a tuneup for Roland Garros.
Second-seeded David Ferrer also advanced in the combined ATP-WTA event, defeating Daniel Gimeno-Traver of Spain 6-4, 6-3. No. 4 Fabio Fognini beat Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic 6-1, 7-6 (7) to reach the second round.
On the women’s side, No. 1 Sara Errani of Italy defeated Brazilian Teliana Pereira 6-3, 6-3. No. 3 Roberta Vinci of Italy won 7-6 (4), 6-3 against Lucie Hradecka of the Czech Republic.
Nadal has said he’s free of injuries and illness, which have plagued him the last few seasons.
“The important thing is play a tough match like this in the first round and win,” Nadal said. “And always beating someone in their home country, where he has a lot of support, is tough. I always have a good feeling playing on clay and I’m into the second round. That’s that matters.”
Nadal, dubbed the “King of Clay,” struggled in the first set, making several strings of unforced errors. He managed to break the fellow lefthander three straight times, but was broken twice himself before closing out the set.
In the second set he broke Bellucci twice in a row to jump to a 4-0 lead before closing out the match 6-1.
“The first set was very even, and Thomaz is very dangerous on this surface,” Nadal said. “The second set I started right off with an advantage and I felt more relaxed.”
Nadal, who looks much lighter than he was last season, is off Wednesday and returns on Thursday. Ferrer faces qualifier Thiemo De Bakker of the Netherlands on Wednesday.
Two seeded men bowed out of the tournament on Tuesday, with Blaz Rola of Slovenia defeating No. 5 Leonardo Mayer of Argentina 4-6, 7-6 (3), 4-1. Mayer withdrew because of dehydration.
Juan Monaco of Argentina beat No. 7 Santiago Giraldo of Colombia 6-3, 3-0. The Colombian retired with stomach problems.
Errani is also off on Wednesday. No 2 Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania faces American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, and No. 4 Madison Brengle of the United States faces Dinah Pfizenmaier of Germany.
Stephen Wade on Twitter: http://twitter.com/StephenWadeAP
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