Yuki, Somdev and, now, Ramkumar, have ensured that India have more options on the first day of the Davis Cup, and the country’s singles players are at home on hard courts. Raakesh Natraj says Indian tennis is no longer doubles-centric or grass-obsessed.
You immediately notice that Yuki Bhambri has bulked up recently. You find this reassuring in the same irrational way that the sight of Michael Carrick sporting a Pirlo-esque beard becalms a Manchester United fan seconds after being confronted with the line up of the side and the composition of the back four on television.
Even as you realise that a player’s ability to generate power — long acknowledged to be aspects that Yuki would have to incorporate in his game to make the next step — is only marginally, if at all, dependent on sheer physical size, the change, nonetheless, reassures you.
“If that was the case, then you would have wrestlers winning tournaments. It is a balance of everything. I can run for five hours or hit a tennis ball at 200 kilometers an hour but if I do not know what to do on a 30-all point, it makes no sense having that strength or speed. In today’s sport, the strength part is not about hitting the ball harder but being able to last out there,” he says, later.
But in the first few moments, an equation forms in your head: a beefed up Yuki equals a fitter, stronger Yuki. This optimism may be illogical, but it is not extravagant. You do not expect Yuki 2.0 to go collect a Grand Slam or two right after he towels off at the gym. Even he doesn’t expect to. (See Box) But you wonder if an improved Yuki would not go someway in putting back together something that is very nearly broken.
Tennis, a team sport
Over the years, Indian tennis’ best moments on the international stage have, invariably, come in the Davis Cup. Despite quality singles players trickling in once in a generation, India have been plucky over-achievers in the Cup, having thrice made the final. The last of these final appearances, however, came in 1987, when India had arguably its most rounded Cup side — Ramesh Krishnan and Vijay Amirtraj were the first-choice singles players while Anand Amirtraj partnered his brother in the doubles rubbers.
Coinciding with the drought in singles talent since the 90s (making a brief exception for the time when Leander Paes rose up to No. 78 in the rankings before giving up singles altogether), India’s performances in the Cup have also tapered off. The side is currently ranked 26th in the ITF list, behind Romania, Israel and Ecuador, and had to stave off Indonesia in a Asia/Oceania Group 1 relegation play-off last year.
In so far as the Davis Cup still retains a certain level of significance, the last few months have provided Indian hopes in the international event some buoyancy. Since his return from an ankle injury in August-September last year, 21-year-old Yuki has steadily moved up the singles ranking continued…