Two months back Yuki Bhambri was in Christchurch, battling frigid conditions and New Zealand’s spirited counter-attacking tennis in the Davis Cup Group 1 Asia/Oceania second round. The hosts were ranked much lower than India, but it was in no way an easy job as the visitors were to find out.
Somdev Devvarman lost his first tie, putting pressure on Yuki to deliver. He kept his poise and helped India draw level, dismissing Jose Statham without losing serve. The 23-year-old then followed it up with a win against Michael Venus in the crucial fifth rubber to seal the deal for India.
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His confidence, composure and ability to deliver under pressure earned him praise from several quarters, but the best compliment came from India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali, who said the Delhi lad’s performance was as good as any top-50 player.
Ranked 125, Yuki put in another creditable performance at the Vancouver challenger event, where he defeated Alejandro Falla, Marius Copil and Farrukh Dustov before going down to Dudi Sela in the semis.
These days consistency and high endurance levels have become Yuki’s watchwords as he steadily climbs the charts in world tennis, becoming the top-ranked singles player in the country. He reckons his progress down to the fact that he has been playing non-stop tennis over the last six months.
“Playing tennis is more important than playing the best tennis of my life. I have been consistent and played in several tournaments and done well. Before going to New Zealand, I had already played the first three Slams of the year and had six months of solid tennis behind me. That helps when you are consistently competing. You feel good and that’s what really has been the key for my success of late,” he explained.
The dull phase
Despite all the brouhaha surrounding Yuki’s consistency and his ability to win tense duels, there was a phase, around the same time last year, when he was down in the dumps. At the 2014 World Group playoff against Serbia in Bangalore, he lost both his singles matches in straight sets to Busan Lajovic and Filip Krajinovic, handing the tie to the visitors.
Yuki blamed it on lack of match practice. “Before coming into last year’s tie in Bangalore, I was out of tennis for four months, and that proved to be my undoing,” he said.
As the Indian team gears up to take on a mightier opponent at home — No.1 ranked Czech Republic — Yuki exuded confidence of translating his rich vein of form against the likes of Lukas Rosol and Radek Stepanek.
“If you are winning a tournament, it means you are playing well and if you are playing well you are obviously confident. You want to put your best foot forward when it comes to Davis Cup. I have had a good last week in Shanghai (where he won an ATP Challenger event) and the conditions were pretty similar, so hopefully I can continue doing well here in Delhi.”
As the weekend approaches, there has been talk as to how both teams would need to adjust to Delhi’s sweltering heat. Yuki, however, played down all such talk by saying that being a local, he knew DLTA’s hard courts pretty well and with Somdev’s impeccable record in Delhi, India will look to drive home the advantage against the Czechs.
The Indian squad will be bolstered by the presence of old war horse Leander Paes. The 42-year-old veteran, who opted out of the Davis Cup duel in New Zealand, is likely to team up with Rohan Bopanna in the lone doubles contest. Yuki reckons the presence of Leander will give India a definite edge.
“We are never labelled favourites and we are used to that. However, with Leander teaming up with Rohan, we are expecting to win the doubles tie. There are four singles matches and we hope to do well. To win the tie we need to win three matches out of which are two singles,” he added.
Meanwhile, Leander, who won the US Open mixed doubles title with Martina Hingis last week, will arrive in Delhi on Wednesday morning. Like Yuki, India’s Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj too felt Leander’s presence would boost the confidence of the squad. “Leander is landing tomorrow morning. He was in New York. My suggestion to him was to come on Tuesday evening or Wednesday morning,” Amritraj said. “Our team is a little bit stronger with the presence of Leander and Rohan in doubles. They will have a ‘scare factor’.”