RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) – 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 Tuesday 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 Thursday against Spanish compatriot Pablo Carreno Busta.
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 left-hander 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 Brazilian broke back in the next game to level the opening set.