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Hurried Nadal returns in triumph

Wednesday, May 28, 2008
By Matthew Cronin

It took Rafael Nadal two days to get on court, but once he did, the three-time champion returned to Paris with a flourish, putting down a stern challenge from the talented young Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci 7-5 6-3 6-1 in a competitive match that belied the score.

In winning his 22nd consecutive match at Roland Garros, Nadal took a good set and a half to find his rhythm against his fellow left-hander, but was the far more consistent and intelligent player on the day. While the Brazilian dazzled the crowd at times with his heavy forehand, big serve and headstrong charges to the net, it was Nadal who gained the most applause, as he was more solid off the ground, returned with authority, and ate up Bellucci's drop shot attempts.

The match was held over at 1-1 in the first set after Tuesday’s heavy bouts of rain and Nadal had to wait a long time to go on court as No1 Maria Sharapova needed two hours and 28 minutes to best Evgeniya Rodina 6-1, 3-6, 8-6 in the first match on Philippe Chatrier Court.

“These were two difficult days, because as time goes by you get more nervous and you can't practice, so I probably lost the rhythm I had acquired before this tournament,” Nadal said. “But I hope this won't be a problem for the rest of the tournament for me to play well. Then I was a bit nervous. Today was a difficult day on the centre court, because the surface was more rapid than clay usually is.”

While the Spaniard must have felt reasonably secure going on court as he has only lost one match on clay this season, he knew little of Belucci, who former Roland Garros champion Gustavo Kuerten has hailed the next big thing from Brazil.

Bellucci, who won four Challenger titles on clay this year, ably backed up Kuerten's hopes in the first set, matching Nadal forehand for forehand and serving more effectively. But his inexperience showed, when serving at 5-6 in the first set, he missed a sitter backhand volley and followed it up with a double fault. “This is a player with great potential,” Nadal said. “He could be in amongst the top players. “He has a very good serve, very good forehand, very good backhand, which is very important. Maybe he wants to improve a bit with regards to mobility and placement, but for the rest he has a great potential to be a great player.”

Bellucci continued to swing away in the second set, but Nadal began to yank him around the court and get better depth on his groundstrokes, served with variety and once he began to read his foe's second serves, Bellucci began to drown in his own attack. The wind swirled all day, but in the end, it was Nadal who was the true hurricane.

The Spaniard will face France's Nicolas Devilder in the next round. “He's lefty too, so going to be tough,” Nadal said. “I have to play well for beat against everybody. Just hopefully play better tomorrow than today, and you just never know. I'm confident if I'm playing well I have a chance.”

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