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Australian Open: Yuki Bhambri India’s solitary singles representative in Melbourne

Country’s top-ranked singles player Yuki Bhambri beat Peter Polansky to reach Australian Open main draw for third time.

Written by Shahid Judge | Mumbai |
Updated: January 15, 2018 9:00:37 am
Yuki Bhambri reaches Australian Open main draw for third time Yuki Bhambri will take on former finalist Marcos Baghdatis on Monday. (Source: PTI)

The mercury hasn’t risen as much as expected at the Australian Open so far. For a Major known for its sweltering heat, that had once melted Jo-Wilfred Tsonga’s shoes on court, this time the harsh rays of sunshine have been replaced by heavy rain that delayed qualifying round matches.

One such tie was between India’s Yuki Bhambri and Canadian youngster Peter Polansky – a third round affair to decide who would make it to the main draw. And as the anxiety crept in courtesy of the match being postponed by a day, Bhambri dropped the first set 1-6.

“I was nervous in the first set. I didn’t move well or hit as freely as I could have,” he says. “In the second I had to make sure I didn’t give him a lead, so I thought I’d start hitting and see where it goes. I managed to find my rhythm and started striking the ball and moving freely.”

The 25-year-old started to claw his way back, and after an hour and 55 minutes, he registered a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 win to become the only Indian singles player at the tournament to qualify for the main draw.

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The World No.121 had earlier gotten the better of Brayden Schnur and Spaniard Carlos Taberner in the first and second qualifying rounds, before becoming the first

Indian since Saketh Myneni at the US Open 2016, to make it to the main draw of a Grand Slam.

For Bhambri though, this was the least that he had expected of himself. “Since the 2018 season started, I’ve had high expectations from myself and I did have the belief that I would qualify,” he says. “I felt I’ve had good preparation with a lot of matches under the belt. But this was the next target, now I just hope I can get a few wins.”

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The major in Melbourne has “always been (his) favourite.” He’s qualified for the main draw of a Grand Slam only twice before, both at Melbourne when he played at the 2015 and 2016 editions. Incidentally, the former junior World No.1 had also won the junior Australian Open title in 2009.

Conditions have been pleasant so far. “The last few years have been hot, but it’s quite cool here right now,” Bhambri says. “It’s more draining in the heat but easier when it’s cooler. But the players are used to adjusting to the temperature. The courts too have been on the faster side.”

It’s under these conditions that Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanthan, Sumit Nagal and Prajnesh Gunneswaran competed in the qualifiers. This was the first time four Indian players were featuring in the singles qualifiers of a major. But only Bhambri and Ramkumar reached the third round.

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The second highest Indian player, ranked 20 places behind Bhambri, came up against Canadian Vasek Pospisil. The 23-year-old was vying for his first appearance in a main draw, and did well to overcome his first set loss, only to be broken at a crucial moment when serving at 4-5 in the final set. Ramkumar eventually lost 4-6, 6-4, 4-6.

Bhambri, the only one to make it into the final 128, now plays Marcos Baghdatis in the first round.

In his previous first round appearances, the Delhi-lad had come up against Andy Murray (2015) and then World No.6 Tomas Berdych (2016). Baghdatis, himself is a former World No.8, had reached the final of the 2006 Australian Open.

But the veteran Cypriot had a torrid 2017 season, starting the year at 36 but falling down to his current 101 standing.
Against the erratic 32-year-old, Bhambri senses a chance. “I’ve hit with him at the Bollettieri Academy, so he’s not unfamiliar,” he asserts. “It’s an opportunity for me. He (Baghdatis) is coming fresh into this season, but I’ve had a few matches to find my rhythm. So I definitely have a shot.”

He has done his bit to give himself the best chance as well. He’s travelling now with both a coach, Steven Koon (who trains veteran Taiwanese player Yen-Hsun Lu) and trainer Abhimanyu Singh. The only thing, oddly, India’s highest ranked singles player is missing is an apparel sponsor.

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The only Indian in the singles main draw will wear a blank jersey (“or tape up an old one”) on court 8, on Monday.

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First published on: 15-01-2018 at 01:15:28 am

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