TWO time Wimbeldon champion Rafael Nadal kicks off his campaign on day two at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club with a favourable match up against Brazilian Thomaz Bellucci.
2015 has not panned out the way the 14-time Grand Slam winner would have hoped, slumping to 10th in the overall ATP rankings this season, handing him the number 10 seed in this year’s tournament – his lowest ever at Wimbledon.
Let’s take a look at the two combatants:
Match-up stats for Nadal vs. Bellucci
2015 Win/Loss ratio: 33-11
Best Wimbledon finish: Overall winner 2008, 2011
Keys to Nadal’s game: Relentless aggression, superior fitness.
2015 Win/Loss ratio: 21-15
Best Wimbledon finish: First round
Key’s to Bellucci’s game: Heavy forehand, excellent use of angles and spin.
An angry and determined Nadal is not a foreign sight to tennis enthusiasts, but the Spaniard’s pride would have clearly been pricked by the low seeding coming into Wimbledon.
His lacklustre French Open campaign, which saw him lose to eventual finalist Novak Djokovic in the quarter-finals – his first loss in six years on clay at the French Open, will also be playing heavily on his mind.
His South American opponent will be no pushover, with Bellucci riding a wave of success so far in 2015.
The 27-year-old Brazilian has won six of his last eight matches, including winning the Geneva Open title, his first singles success since 2012.
Bellucci has improved immensely at the majors after struggling early in his career, getting past the opening round in four of his last five appearances – this will be his first time back at Wimbledon since 2012.
Nadal has been keeping himself busy after his French Open exit, winning the Stuttgart Open and playing both singles and doubles at Queens’ to get himself back into a rhythm on the grass.
His last match was a shock loss to Argentine Alexdandr Dolgopolov, in which he had several chances to win the match but failed to display his typical merciless edge to close out.
What they said
Despite his low seeding and shaky 2015 form which saw him relinquish his stranglehold on the French Open title, two-time champion Rafael Nadal has a renewed level of confidence.
Nadal took to the grass a lot earlier than he normally would have after his quarter-final exit at Roland Garas which he believes will hold him in good stead to hit the ground running.
Getting acclimatised to the grass surface early – which included winning a lead up tournament at Stuttgart – will put the former world number one in a good position mentally to launch an assault in London.
“I feel good. I won a tournament on grass after five years, a good moment for me and a special one.” Nadal said.
“I was in Stuttgart practising on grass very early. You know, I stayed in Queen’s until Friday … I came back here Tuesday morning and I have played well here on the practice courts.”
Most importantly, Rafa seems to have shaken off persistent knee injuries which have dogged the tenacious lefty for the past three years.
A renewed confidence in his body has given Nadal a big boost going into the 2015 tournament.
“I’m so happy to be here, you know. Healthy, that’s the most important thing. Last year I was better, after 2012 and ’13, that I couldn’t play well here. Too many problems with my knees.”
Winner: Rafael Nadal – $1.05 with Sportsbet.com.au
Correct score: Rafael Nadal 3-1 – $3.75
Value bet: Thomaz Belleccui to win at least one set – yes $2.37
This match looms as one of the most intriguing opening round contests of the tournament.
On paper Nadal has the ability and the experience to wipe the court with his opponent, but his current form is not the Rafa we are used to seeing, meaning he could be at his most vulnerable.
Bellucci has been in stellar form leading in and will feel confident he can trouble the legendary Spaniard after breaking his way back into the top-40 for the first time in three years.
History is against the Brazilian, though, with Nadal having never previously dropped a set against him in their last four meetings.
If Bellucci can take his winning form onto the London grass he is not incapable of taking a set of the dual Wimbledon champion.
He must take the Nadal trepidation of being seeded so low and use it to his advantage, with the normally unflappable Spaniard uncharacteristically flustered at times throughout his indifferent 2015 season.
Rafa should have too much class and should progress to the second round here, but do not discount winning form – Bellucci is capable of taking at least one set.