By Mitch Phillips
LONDON (Reuters) - Rafa Nadal might have been condemned to a lowly 10th seeding at Wimbledon but he remains a floater everyone will want to avoid after getting his campaign off to an impressive start with a straight-sets dismissal of Thomaz Bellucci on Tuesday.
The twice champion, who has slipped down the sport’s pecking order after 18 months of injury and below-par performances, showed glimpses of his power and determination in a 6-4 6-2 6-4 win over Brazil's Bellucci on a sun-drenched Number One Court.
If the draw goes to plan Nadal will have to get past Andy Murray and Roger Federer to earn a shot at a third title, potentially against top seed Novak Djokovic in the final.
Those mouth-watering match-ups would be certain to be tighter than Tuesday’s encounter, though it would have a surprise if it had been anything else.
Through his eight-year career Bellucci had played 306 matches, exactly split between victories and defeats, but it has always been one-way traffic against Nadal.
The two had met five times previously and the nearest the Brazilian came to taking a set was when he forced a tiebreak -– which he lost to love -– during his first-round defeat at Wimbledon three years ago.
Nadal had warmed up for this year's tournament by winning on the grass of Stuttgart, though he went out in the first round at Queens.
Bellucci has been allergic to grass for four years, failing to win a single match on the surface since 2011.
Nadal initially struggled to calibrate his forehand and was wayward with his serving but he eventually settled and began smashing Bellucci into submission with his heavyweight backhand.
The Brazilian must have known it was not to be his day when, fighting to stay in the first set, he allowed an under-hit Nadal lob to bounce and planted his smash into the net from two metres.
The crowd gasped in sympathy and duly accorded him a very British ovation when he responded to the gaffe with an ace on his next serve.
It was all a mere diversion, however, as Nadal warmed to his task, with the full repertoire of grunting, shorts-fiddling, headband-adjusting and hair-stroking ticks on display.
The match fell into a pattern of Bellucci holding his own early in the rallies before finding himself stretched and eventually beaten by Nadal’s superior power and accuracy.
It reached its natural conclusion in just over two hours, the ideal preparation for Nadal as he attempts to nurse his battered 29-year-old body through two grueling weeks.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)