Brazil’s Bellucci retires at age 35 after Rio defeat

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RIO DE JANEIRO — Thomaz Bellucci, Brazil’s main flagbearer on the men’s tennis tour for the past decade, has retired after losing in straight sets to sixth-seeded Sebastian Baez 6-3, 6-2 in the first round of the Rio Open on Wednesday.

Bellucci, 35, is now preparing to transition into coaching.

Bellucci won 200 professional matches in his career, lifted four titles and reached a career-high No. 21 in the ATP rankings. He’s one of the five players to win a set 6-0 against Novak Djokovic on clay. He beat top-10 players six times in his career, including then-No. 4 Andy Murray at the Madrid Open in 2011.

Bellucci turned pro in 2005 at a time his sports hero, three-time French Open champion and former No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten, was active. Brazilians had high expectations the younger player could reach as high as Kuerten, but he almost always fell short — often because of injuries.

“(You have) the historic second position among Brazilian male players,” Kuerten said in a video played on the Rio Open arena’s big screen after Bellucci’s last match. “It is no joke, my boy. I will continue cheering for you. I applaud you and I thank you.”

Bellucci played eight finals at the elite level and won titles at Gstaad (2009, 2012), Santiago (2010) and Geneva (2015).

Still, for many years, he developed a love-hate relationship with Brazilian tennis fans who had no one else but him in whom to place the country’s hopes in big tournaments.

“When people expect a lot from you, you feel it. When you have several sports heroes in a country, that is diluted among all the athletes. That’s what we see in Argentina, Spain, the United States. All have many players. In Brazil it was me playing Grand Slams,” Bellucci said in a news conference. “That wasn’t good for me. I pressured myself a lot to advance in the tournaments.”

He currently ranks No. 915 after almost a full year on the sidelines with an injured left knee.

“I will miss entering a court with Brazilians all around me, cheering for me from the start. These feelings don’t come in any other job,” Bellucci said. “But I won’t miss the rest of it.”

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