Ever since Yuki Bhambri won the Australian Open boys singles title and became the world’s top ranked junior in 2009, expectations from the Indian have been high. That same year, Bhambri won 5 ITF Futures titles – the lowest rung of international events on the professional circuit (behind the ATP tour events and the ATP Challenger events).
After peaking at No. 321 in the ATP rankings in April 2010, the Indian saw his ranking drop all the way to No. 556 later in the same year. Constant niggling injuries – the signs of a growing body – kept interrupting his momentum each time he threatened to make some headway into the pro circuit.
And while his contemporaries like Bernard Tomic and Ryan Harrison scorched up the world rankings and established themselves as the future of men’s tennis, Yuki seemed to be stuck on the outer fringes of the sport.
2011 saw Bhambri win his sixth ITF Futures title and reach the final of another – all within the first four months of the year, but then injuries again limited him to just one event in the next 5 months. Another ITF title in Nigeria in October followed by semifinal finishes in two events in Nigeria and India helped him climb back to No. 345 by the end of last year.
A ranking in the top 350 is good enough to make the draws of ATP Challenger events – the second rung in the ladder of pro circuit events. And Yuki has been focusing on the Challenger circuit this year. Several Indians (like Karan Rastogi, Vishnu Vardhan, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and Saketh Myneni) have tasted success on the Futures circuit but have been unable to translate that at the Challenger level.
After winning a round at the ATP Chennai Open in January (only his second ATP tour level match win), Bhambri managed to reach the quarterfinals of Challengers in Singapore and Kyoto, bettering his best ranking to No. 263. And on Sunday, Bhambri capped a stunning week in Fergana, Uzbekistan by winning the ATP Challenger title there. This was one week after he partnered with fellow Indian Divij Sharan to win the doubles title at the Challenger event in Busan.
The win ensures Bhambri of 80 ATP ranking points which will vault him past the injured Somdev Devvarman to around 220 in the latest world rankings – a new career best and the status as India’s No. 1 player. With his new ranking, Bhambri can now concentrate exclusively on the Challenger circuit and it will also enable him to qualify for the main draws of weaker ATP level events.
The Indian is defending virtually zero ranking points until the fourth quarter and has plenty to play for in the coming months. If he continues his momentum, he should be able to assure himself of a spot in the qualifying draw of the US Open (Tournament entries are based on rankings six weeks prior so his ranking will not be high en0ugh to get him into the qualification draws for either the French Open or Wimbledon).
If he remains injury free for the next few months and plays a smart schedule, Bhambri could be headed to the top 100 very soon. For that, he will need to continue his winning ways. And with Somdev Devvarman returning to action by Wimbledon hopefully, these will certainly be interesting times for Indian tennis.