Yuki Bhambri will take a few days’ break after his early exit in the Delhi Challenger and then hit the hard court swing in the US. He speaks about the changes he has brought to his game, how far he hopes to make it in tennis and the emerging rivalry among India’s singles players.
Have you made a deliberate effort to work on the physical side of your tennis?
The game has change so much, especially physically. The courts have slowed down and you have to run around a lot more. The bodies of Europeans, Americans and Australians develop quicker. My tennis is up there with the standards of a top-50, top-100 player and physically to get there, I need to put in a lot of effort.
Over the last year, what aspects of your game have changed and what else needs to improve?
I needed to improve my backhand. It was a steady shot but I wanted to hit more winners, which I am able to do now. Playing doubles has helped too — the ability to volley well has helped me with the confidence of going to the net during crucial points. I can get more accurate on ground strokes and improve the speed of my serve.
How long does it take for improvements to kick in?
It takes time. There is a huge difference a year makes, from when I was Ramkumar’s age and where I am now. One has to realise it is not a sprint, it is a marathon. You are not playing one match or tournament. You are playing a season, for the next ten years or so. You are not going to change the way you hit your forehand or change the grip on your volleys. It might just be hitting an extra slice on the ball or hitting it a little bit closer to the line. In matches the difference is just a point or two.
How far do you see yourself go?
Success is measured in Grand Slams and if that is the case, then Ferrer and Berdych have had mediocre careers but they have actually been fantastic. For me, just competing at the Grand Slams, being in the second week, the third-fourth rounds are going to be as good as winning a Slam. It is going to take a long time and big effort. The goal is to break into the top 100 to play the Slams and the bigger tournaments.
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You’ve not had good luck with injuries. Do you feel you are finally hitting a stretch where you can push yourself without fear of breakdown?
My main problem has been the ankle, which has happened over and over again. It is something that you cannot predict. Before Chennai I was walking by the side of the road and tripped over and fell. I came to the Chennai Open with a huge tape on my ankle. I am a lot careful now. I have also learnt different ways to deal with it. In the Australian Open, I saw a lot of players do rehab work on their knees and ankles even though they hadn’t hurt themselves. That is something that I have implemented. I feel if I can play a whole year, I will do well. I’ve always had good results every time I’ve been injury free.
Do Davis Cup ties help in player development? After all, most of the things you work on, you do by yourself on the tour.
Playing in a team is fun. You are out here playing by yourself, for yourself, for 30 weeks a year. Davis Cup gives you the chance to play for the country, together, instead of playing each other. In terms of development, not really. But for me it (Davis Cup) gives me a chance to play three out of five sets, which I don’t do on a regular basis. I can assess how far I have come physically and how much I can push myself.
Is there a minor under-current of rivalry between you, Somdev and Ramkumar?
The media enjoys it a bit more than the three of us. There is still a big gap between me and Ramkumar, and me and Somdev. We will have to be a lot more consistent — the rest of us, Ramkumar, Saket (Myneni) and Sanam (Singh) — to reach Somdev’s level.
— Raakesh Natraj