Yuki Bhambri sails over high hurdle

Indian,ranked 195 in the world,beats world No 64 Spaniard in first round of Chennai Open.

Written by Aditya Iyer | Chennai | Published: January 1, 2014 11:09 pm

Every year,kids with big forehands and bigger ambitions,are subjected to a plethora of voices. Some voices are from within,others they can do without. The players who find success at an early age,few in number,are usually the ones that managed to weed out the wrong from the right.

Yuki Bhambri was one of those few.

In 2009,at just 17,he was the Australian Open boys’ singles champion — a junior Grand Slam champion,just like Bernard Tomic had been in the previous year in Melbourne and Grigor Dimitrov had been in the previous year in New York.

But while Tomic and Dimitrov soon found their calling as professionals with career high rankings in the low 20s,the voices had caught up with Bhambri.

When Dimitrov and Tomic boasted of reaching the third round and quarterfinals of the French and Wimbledon respectively,Bhambri — who is yet to make the main draw of a Slam — played hard to make the second round of the Chennai Open. Before this week began,he had gotten there once in six attempts.

The critics sharpened their vocal cords. Some blamed his game. Few wagged fingers at his fitness. Others faulted the facilities around him. By August this year,his ranking fell to a low of 593. All this,while his first round opponent at the 2014 Chennai Open,22-year old Pablo Carreno Busta,moved astonishingly from a ranking of 700 something to 64th in the last 12 months.

On Tuesday,Bhambri and Busta,boys who had crossed each other in opposite directions on the ladder,met. Dealing with those sniggering voices must not have been easy,but the Indian stepped it up on Chennai’s show court to bridge the gap.

A straight sets win (6-4,6-3) in the first round of an ATP 250 event may not be much,but for Bhambri it was one step taken on a long and arduous journey ahead. At Nungambakkam on New Year’s eve,Bhambri showed that he had the game and the tenacity to walk the remainder of that journey,with a strong and clinical performance.

The forehands were potent,the backhands (clearly his strong point) were accurate and his serves sharp. But what really made Bhambri say ‘I believe’ once the match ended was his ability to find answers to probing questions. Not in the coach’s room on a television screen; right there on a tennis court. The very last game of this hour-and-a-quarter long fixture was illustrative of that fact.

Serving at 3-5 down to stay in this match,Busta looked to go for broke. With a wide angling serve,the Spaniard set the tone. Bhambri,strong with his crosscourt whips,was on it in a flash. The deep and powerful forehand return had Busta stuck to his service spot. Love-fifteen. Busta,instantly realising his mistake,skilfully got the Indian to hit down the line. Bhambri struggled — 40-30.

Digging deeper

But as Busta dug deeper,so did Bhambri. The sixth point saw a long exchange of crosscourt backhands. Busta sat back,excepting one more to come right to him at the edge of the ad court. Only,Bhambri didn’t turn his wrists and found the perfect winner down the deuce court side,bang where the baseline met the tramline.

At deuce,Busta’s serve went wide again. Bhambri didn’t thwack it back as he usually would. Rather,with a dead face of the racquet aimed straight again,he found his forehand winner clicking quite like his backhand did in the previous point. Match point. Then match.

“Great to start this season with a win,” he said later. “It is a move in the right direction.” Make that two moves. With Fabio Fognini,the red hot Italian ranked 16th in the world and the Indian’s next opponent,set to take a call on his future in the tournament after straining his ankle,Bhambri might just have jumped two hurdles in one go.

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