Has India found a new tennis star in Yuki Bhambri?

Yuki Bhambri won the singles and doubles crown at the Chennai Challenger
Adnan Akhtar

Yuki Bhambri won the singles and doubles crown at the Chennai Challenger

Since quite a few years, India have lacked a good quality singles tennis player. Despite Leander Paes‘s bronze medal showing in Atlanta in 1996, for a while now there have been no emerging players from the country capable of challenging the cream of men’s tennis.

The Bopannas and Mankads shone brightly like shooting stars and faded away towards the less physically challenging doubles. This was followed by the rise of Somdev Devvarman who, with regular wins, remained in the top 100 of the world for a significant period of time.

While Devvarman was taking giant steps to the top, a young 16-year-old Yuki Bhambri had his moment in the sun when he won the 2009 junior Australian Open title at Melbourne Park. In the process, he became only the 4th Indian to win a junior Grand Slam.

From 2009 to 2012, it was a struggle for Bhambri and his ranking plummeted to the 700s. However, somewhere around the middle of 2012, the Indian finally broke the shackles and won his first ever challenger tournament in Uzbekistan. From then on, steady progress saw him break into the top 200 in the world.

It was 2013 which saw Bhambri truly coming of age and announcing to the world his potential as a top player.

It was late autumn in the coastal city of Kaohsiung Taiwan. Tennis players from across the world had gathered for a challenger tournament. For lower-ranked players, such tournaments are the key to forge their way into the premium class of world tennis.

In a week dominated by wind and rain, the final day saw Bhambri being tested to the limits of his endurance. The Indian had to first play out a marathon 3-hour semifinal, and he had to then get back on court an hour later to play the final. If that was not enough, after the singles final Yuki also played in the doubles final. Despite falling at the final hurdle, the experience of struggling for 6 hours on court helped mould a physically and mentally improved tennis player.

From that moment onwards, an exponential rise in his performances saw Bhambri winning his second challenger title in Australia and a Futures title at home. However, the icing on the cake was the 2014 Chennai Open. Egged on by a vociferous Chennai crowd, Bhambri pulled off a massive upset by knocking out world number 15 Fabio Fognini to reach his maiden quarterfinal at an ATP tour event.

The love for the city of Chennai was not to end as Bhambri returned for the challenger tournament at the Nungambakkam tennis stadium. Seeded 7th in the draw, Bhambri had some close clashes en route to the semis. In the semifinal, his opponent was India’s top-ranked player Somdev Devvarman. In a highly anticipated match, Bhambri used his explosive forehand to unsettle Devvarman, and he stunned the crowd by cruising to a straight sets win.

The final against talented Russian Alexander Kudryavtsev was always going to be a tough battle. Bhambri had his back to the wall in the deciding set, trailing 5-3. But a gritty performance saw the youngster notch up a remarkable comeback, winning the next four games and with that his third challenger title. To top it off Bhambri completed a double by winning the doubles title with partner Michael Venus later on in the day.

With a dominant forehand, Yuki Bhambri has it in him to reach the pinnacle of the sport. But a major area of improvement in his game is his backhand. That shot has frequently let him down as he struggles to hit it with pace, and will be a key if he has to continuously get past higher-ranked opponents. Being from a tennis family, Bhambri will have all the support to mature and take his game to the next level.

Now, it has to be seen if Bhambri can capitalize on his recent success to build a platform to challenge the higher ranked players on the ATP circuit. But with these multiple wins, at least one thing is certain: the future of Indian tennis is in safe hands.

Edited by Staff Editor


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