atp challenger

Blooming in to Life Once Again

All we have been hearing over recent months is negativity surrounding British tennis.

Tales of rotten apples in the barrel, failed youngsters, squandered millions and a country lost in a downward spiral of tennis faux pas which shows no signs of halting but for the increasingly confident performances of lone star Andy Murray.

Yet this week at the Campbell’s Hall of Fame Tennis Championships at the International Tennis Hall of Fame & Museum in Newport, Rhode Island, a name nobody but the staunchest statisticians of British tennis will have been following is making a name for himself in the heat and humidity of east-coast America.

Current world No. 557 Richard Bloomfield will today (Friday) face young American Ryan Harrison in the last quarterfinal with the opportunity to face either American number 5 seed Mardy Fish (remember him from Queens?) or the Canadian Frank Dancevic in the semifinals.

Hang on, a Brit in the semifinals of a tournament other than Andy Murray? Continual sob-story Alex Bogdanovic failed to reach even the main draw here, going down in the final round of qualifying. So just who is this guy?

Richard Bloomfield was born April 27, 1983 in the small village of Alpington, just outside the beautiful Norfolk city of Norwich. He won the British Junior Tennis Championships in 2001, defeating that man Bogdanovic in the final, and picked up the equivalent title in doubles with Ken Skupski, now one half of the promising Flemski partnership alongside Colin Fleming.

He began playing on the senior tour that year and his first full ATP Tournament was the 2003 Wimbledon Championships where he gained a wildcard before losing to Anthony Dupuis in the first round.

In 2006 he reached round two of Wimbledon with a win over Carlos Berlocq which was investigated by authorities over strange betting patterns but no wrong-doing was ever discovered. That year he also reached the semifinals of the ATP Challenger Event at Rennes where he lost to rising French star Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

2007 saw him reach his first ATP Challenger final in Wrexham, Wales, where he lost to Michal Prysiezny which saw him rise to a career-high 176 in the South African Airways ATP World Rankings. He then partnered Jonathan Marray to the third round of the 2007 Wimbledon doubles Championships.

His ranking fell considerably over the next couple of years until he qualified for the 2009 Open 13 where he agonisingly lost 6-7, 6-7 to the Italian Simon Bolelli in the first round. Back injuries hampered him and his ranking fell further but then he surprisingly qualified for this year’s Hall of Fame Championships where he is beginning to make a name for himself again.

In reaching the quaterfinals he has recorded his first wins on the ATP Tour since that 2006 Wimbledon Championships and at 27 this will be a welcome boost for a man whose confidence must have been looking at rock bottom.

And hasn’t he done well. He is yet to drop a set. A 7-6 (1), 6-1 first-round win over Belgian Christophe Rochus, brother of Olivier, set up a second-round clash with second seed and world No. 56 Santiago Giraldo which nobody would have expected him to come out of. But this might just be his week. He won 6-3, 7-6 (5) and now marches in to this quarterfinal with Harrison with a renewed vigour and swagger he won’t have been feeling for a long while.

It is high time we had something positive to shout about for Britain and it’s always great to see somebody who looked down and out have a moment in the sun (literally as the temperature gauges out there are showing). If he overcomes Harrison and then Fish/Dancevic then he will be in his first final since 2007, and his first ever on the full ATP Tour. There either Olivier Rochus will be looking to avenge the slaying of his brother Christophe or Argentine Brian Dabul will be looking to put his own name up in lights.

So march on Richard, your country is firmly behind you!

THOMAZ BELLUCCI: MAN ON A MISSION

As the dust settles and the tears dry following Roger Federer’s whitewashing of Andy Murray in Melbourne the ATP marches on.

Last week saw ATP 250 Tournaments held in Zagreb, Croatia, Johannesburg, South Africa and Santiago, Chile. It is testament to the worldwide appeal that tennis holds so strongly.

The giant Marin Cilic took his home title for the second consecutive year and Feliciano Lopez ended his six-year title drought in Johannesburg. But in Santiago, a little-known Brazilian was taking the plaudits following a 6-2, 0-6, 6-4 victory over the Argentinean Juan Monaco.

South American tournaments are always interesting given the political histories between many of the nations crammed in to the vast island and Thomaz Bellucci will revel in the defeat of one of the “old enemy” to lift the title.

Standing at 6 ft. 2 the left hander considers his serve and forehand as his main strengths and has a powerful repertoire of shots to back this up.

The No. 3 seed had an impressive march to the final. He overcame the likes of Nicolas Lapentti and home favorites Paul Capdeville and reigning Champion Fernando Gonzalez as well as beating another Argentinean Eduardo Schwank on route to facing Monaco.

It was a second title in a five-year career for the 22-year-old following his victory at Gstaad last August. It has lifted him to a career-high rank of No. 28 in the world and has made him the first Brazilian since Gustavo Kuerten in 2004 to hold a top 50 ranking.

Thomaz Cocchiarali Bellucci was born on December 30, 1987, in Tiete, Brazil. His father, Ildebrando, was a salesman while his mother, Maria Regina, owned her own business. Bellucci began playing tennis at a young age and started well. Two weeks after turning 17, he reached a career-high juniors ranking of No. 15 in the world in January 2005.

He then began playing the ATP Challenger Circuit where he registered numerous victories to help propel him in to the world Top 100. He began 2007 ranked No. 582 but a meteoric rise saw him end the year No. 202 with his best results two losing final appearances in Challenger Events in Ecuador and Columbia.

The 2008 season was when people began to hear his name more regularly. He picked up four ATP Challenger titles, all clay. He also qualified for the French Open for the first time where he lost to Rafael Nadal. But at Wimbledon, he saw his first Grand Slam match victory, overcoming Igor Kunitsyn in four sets before losing to the German Simon Stadler in round two.

Thomaz opened 2009 well by overcoming former world No. 1 and 2003 French Open Champion Juan Carlos Ferrero in the quarterfinals of the Brasil Open before losing to Tommy Robredo in the final.

But in August he went one better. After qualifying for the Swiss Open in Gstaad he beat local favorite Stanislas Wawrinka, former world No. 4 Nicolas Keifer, and two-time tournament runner-up Igor Andreev on his way to victory. Beginning the tournament ranked at No. 119 in the world he leapt 53 spots to No. 66 as a result of his victory.

In October, he then reached his first hard-court ATP semifinal, losing to Olivier Rochus at the Stockholm Open in four sets, and was by-now an established member of the Brazilian Davis Cup squad.

The 2010 season has again begun well for the Brazilian. He reached the quarterfinals at Brisbane before being edged out 6-7(4), 6-2, 6-7(3) by the Czech Thomas Berdych before losing to Andy Roddick in the second round of the Australian Open, his best record at the tournament to date.

Now ranked at No. 28 in the world following his victory in Santiago, his next goal is to push towards the top 20. He will have high hopes for the French later this year as he considers clay his best surface and he will no doubt have the samba passion of Brazil behind him as they look for the successor to three-time French Open Champion Gustavo Kuerten’s crown.

He will be looking to improve on his 34-37 career win record and adding to a pot already worth nearly $800,000. Look out for the name Thomaz Bellucci in 2010, there could be some surprises in store.