Yuki Bhambri ambles around the outer courts of the Balewadi Sports Complex looking for a vacant spot for a post-game routine with his new trainer. Moments ago, he had walked off centre court after beating Kaichi Uchida 6-2, 7-5 in his first round match at the USD 50,000 KPIT Challenger in Pune. He finds an unoccupied court and returns a half-hour later with a towel wrapped around his shoulders, sweating profusely.
When asked if you can ‘borrow’ the trainer, Abhimanyu Singh, for a quick chat, he replies: “Please! Take him!”
Since they joined forces in March, Abhimanyu has put the 25-year-old through a gruelling fitness regimen to strengthen his previously injury-prone ward. Bhambri is now on the verge of completing his first full season since 2015 – when he reached a career-high rank 88. In Pune, he’s playing his 24th tournament, including two Davis Cup ties, after missing more than half of last year due to a tennis elbow injury.
It’s a testament to the effort he’s put in rebuilding his body. And the work has paid off, as the world no 137 has pushed up the ranks having started the year at 474.
“There have been lots of matches when I’ve been able to up the ante and keep my focus,” he says. “A lot of the good matches that I lost were still very close and went to three sets. My game and fitness levels are already there. So I can only get better from here.”
The results have been impressive, as Bhambri has taken some of the big names in the sport the distance. Still fresh in memory is his win over former world No 6 Gael Monfils in the ATP 500 event in Washington DC. In the match, the Delhi-lad had to come from behind to win in the third set.
A lot had to do with Abhimanyu’s input, as the physio began stretching Bhambri off the court to improve his performances on it. The stamina increased, as the youngster’s pre-match routine itself went through a modification. “I told him to extend his warm-up routine. Now he takes about 25-30 minutes to loosen up before a match,” says Abhimanyu. “He needs to play long matches, so we’ve worked a lot on his strength, diet, and endurance.”
His first-round match against Uchida ended just over an hour – a work-out not quite intense for Abhimanyu. Hence, the post-match drills on the outer court. “He had to run, do some physical activity, do some footwork, then stretch and do some rehab exercises again, then work on the shoulder and core,” he explains the session.
Before Bhambri, the trainer worked with former India ace Somdev Devvarman – considered one of the fittest singles players to emerge from the country. The 2010 Asian Games gold medallist’s playing style was based entirely on a strong fitness regimen that took him as high as 62 in the world rankings.
“Somdev was a machine, but Yuki wins his matches on skill. So he needs to be pushed,” he says. “Sometimes when he feels fatigued, I tell him ‘Somdev could have done this.’ And then Yuki starts working.”
The number of miles Bhambri covers off court has increased significantly, as Abhimanyu puts him through frequent 400-metre runs, with repetitions ranging from six to 10. Then there are the quick short sprints to help build court speed. Still, that isn’t enough. “Sometimes even when he’s tired, I have to coax him to work some more.”
It’s helped clear Bhambri’s injury-prone body of ailments that have hampered him in the past. The youngster still wears a brace around his elbow though. “It’s a precaution because he sometimes feels it when he’s serving. But it’s more a mental thing,” Abhimanyu says. “He’s absolutely fine.” The intense workouts though have instilled in Bhambri a confidence that his body can hold up to any slugfest he has to engage in, especially now, since his ranking has improved and he has been finding success in bigger events. “The more I keep playing and giving myself opportunities, even if it’s a second round or the quarterfinals of an ATP event, it’ll all help,” he says. “I am itching now to play those higher level tournaments.” He’s considering whether or not to play the Challenger next week in Bangalore, depending on how he does here in Pune. In December though, he’s looking forward to attending a camp in Thailand that will include some of the top Asian players – including Hyeon Chung, the recently crowned winner of the ATP NextGen Finals.
Abhimanyu will be there as well, to take him through the grind that is now becoming routine. Bhambri is not done for the day though. He’s played a match, gone through a rigorous ‘cool-down.’
But more will follow at the hotel. Abhimanyu adds: “Now when we go to the hotel, we’ll be doing some more stretching and rehab work.”