For seven years, no Indian singles player has made it to the main draw of each of the four Grand Slams in a season. Somdev Devvarman was the last to have done it in 2011. On Tuesday, Yuki Bhambri will break that drought. This season, the 26-year-old progressed through the qualifying round at the Australian Open, and then broke into the top 100 for the second time in his career. He’s remained in the double-digit ranks, reaching as high as 83, to secure direct entry into the majors in France and England. And now the US.
“This is where I want to be, where everybody wants to be,” says the world no 96. “All the work put in the last few months and a bit from last year has helped to get the ranking and now be able to be here and play another Slam.” The US Open will mark Bhambri’s sixth appearance in the main draw of a major. He has however, failed to make it past the first round in each of the last five attempts. That duck, he hopes, will end in New York. After all, he has won his biggest career matches on American soil.
At the Indian Wells Masters in March, he won a first round match for the first time in his career at an ATP 1000 event. He beat former world no 37 and three-time doubles Grand Slam winner Nicolas Mahut. In his next game he pulled off his career’s biggest win, ousting an inform world no 12 Lucas Pouille in straight sets, before exiting in the third round after stretching Sam Querrey.
A week later, he reached the second round of the Miami Masters as well. It was also in the United States, at the Citi Open in Washington DC last year, that he beat former world no 6 Gael Monfils to reach the quarterfinal of an ATP 500 event – his best finish at a tour competition.
“It makes a difference knowing that I have done well here before, it gives me confidence,” Bhambri says. “It’s a bit familiar having trained in the US during the younger years. I played in the juniors here for quite some time as well as the pros. So I know the conditions and hopefully I can have a good start.” The journey to the US has come at a time where he hasn’t had many matches under the belt. His last appearance in a competitive match was in the first round of Wimbledon in July. That grass court season was played while he struggled with tendinitis issues in both knees – an injury he picked up during the build-up to his first French Open. Today, he still isn’t at a 100 percent. “It’s better, not completely, but I’m back to playing so that’s a positive,” he says. “I was on a different surface earlier, but having played so much on hard courts I don’t think (the lack of match practice is) going to make much of a difference. I would have liked to (have played) in Washington and the Masters events. But at least I’m here now.” What he has accomplished this year also propels his confidence. The results at the big events and the title at the $150,000 Challenger in Taipei — the biggest of his career — have boosted his ranking and given him time to rub shoulders with the bigger names in the game.
“Being at this level and sometimes just watching the top players play and learn from them has been beneficial,” he adds. “Now I’m a bit more aggressive which is something I needed to do. More importantly I’ve had the self-belief to play anyone and beat anyone.”
His opponent on Tuesday is world no 75 Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France, a three time doubles major winner. The last time the two met was in the second round of the season opener in Pune, where Bhambri lost out in a close three-setter.
The Indian though has improved drastically since then, in rank, caliber and confidence. Along the way though, he has had some luck against French players (Monfils, Mahut and Pouille). And now as he looks to break his duck at the majors, he’s hoping for some more. “I’ve had some good luck against them. Hopefully, whatever luck comes, I’ll take it.”