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Brazil’s Thomaz Bellucci retires at age 35 after Rio Open defeat

ATP 500 Rio de Janeiro 2023

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - FEBRUARY 22: Thomaz Bellucci of Brazil receives a tribute for his retirement from tennis during a match against Sebastian Baez of Argentina during day three of ATP 500 Rio Open presented by Claro at Jockey Club Brasileiro on February 22, 2023 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images)

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

The 35-year-old Bellucci 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-ranked 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 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 at a press 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!”