Crowning glory

The winning feeling... Yuki Bhambri with the trophy in Melbourne.-AP

Yuki Bhambri has made a great start to the year by winning the junior Australian Open. The signs were evident late last year when he won two ITF Grade ‘A’ tournaments, in Japan and the US. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

Yuki Bhambri, 16, not only promises but also delivers. Very few Indian juniors have the clarity of thought and mental toughness to play to potential and break barriers, especially in a physically demanding sport like tennis. In this context, the Australian Open junior title that Yuki won, dropping just one set in six rounds, comes as no surprise.

With his victories in the ITF grade ‘A’ junior events — the Osaka Mayor’s Cup in October and the Orange Bowl in December last year — Yuki had announced that he was ready to make the big strides in 2009. In fact, he even had assured that 2009 would be “a great year”.

If you were misled by his early defeat in a preparatory tournament in Australia or his first round loss to another bright talent, Sanam Singh, in three sets in the qualifying round of the Chennai Open, it was only natural. Yuki is made for the big stage. He seizes his chances. Being the world No. 2 and the top seed in the Junior Australian Open, he knew that he was the favourite to win the title in Melbourne. He had worked on his game very hard both at the Nick Bollettieri Centre in Florida and with his coach from childhood, Aditya Sachdeva, at the Team Tennis Centre, Siri Fort Complex, New Delhi.

After pulling off a three-set victory against Sanchez Delfin (Mexico) in the first round, Yuki was ready for the strong field. He did not drop more than eight games in any of his next five singles matches, and outplayed Alexandros-Ferdinandos Georgoudas (Germany) 6-3, 6-1 in the final in 57 minutes. He did not face a single breakpoint in the final.

It was, literally, history in a hurry.

Yuki joined stalwarts such as Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan and Leander Paes as the only Indians to have won junior Grand Slam singles titles. Krishnan won the Wimbledon title in 1954 while his son Ramesh won both the French Open and Wimbledon in 1979. Leander emerged champion at Wimbledon in 1990 after reaching the final of Australian Open the same year and then went on to clinch the US Open in 1991.

By winning the Australian Open — which was missing from the Indian collection — Yuki joined a legion of players from Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall, Rod Laver, John Newcombe, Tony Roche, Stefan Edberg and Thomas Enqvist to the more recent ones like Nicolas Kiefer, Andy Roddick, Janko Tipsarevic, Marcos Baghdatis and Gael Monfil, who have all triumphed at the oldest junior Grand Slam event that started in 1922.

While it is definitely an achievement to cheer, Yuki is realistic about not over-estimating his ability. He knows that he has unfinished business in the remaining three junior Grand Slam events of the season. Last year, he had lost in the first round of both the French Open and Wimbledon, while at the US Open he managed to win only one round. Yet, for someone who was playing only in his sixth Grand Slam event — he had a modest start, losing in the second qualifying round of the US Open in 2007 — Yuki has come a long way indeed.

In his formative years, critics had often questioned Yuki’s technique, especially his pronounced back-swing, but coach Aditya Sachdeva had brushed aside their observations, maintaining that his ward would evolve nicely with the passage of time. He has been proved right, so far at least.

Yuki is never intimidated on court; he can stand up to the challenges from players with explosive games. His court craft is good, so are his anticipation and reach. The wiry lad had underlined his class in November 2007 when he won the Asia-Oceania junior championship in New Delhi, beating the talented Chinese Di Wu 6-3, 6-1 in the final. It was the first of his two singles titles at the Asia-Oceania level.

While congratulating Yuki, Ramesh Krishnan said it would have been great had Yuki won the doubles title too. But then, had he won the doubles semifinals, it would have meant that he would have played two doubles matches after his singles semifinals on January 30. Considering the searing heat in Melbourne, that would not have been good for his singles final the following morning.

A good student of the game, Yuki has learnt a lot from his adoring sisters, Ankita and Sanaa, who have not only been National champions but also have given a good account of themselves in the international circuit. Ankita along with Sania Mirza had taken India to the No. 5 spot in the world in the Junior Fed Cup, while Sanaa, partnering Sania, had made the semifinals of the junior French Open. Incidentally, both Ankita and Sanaa are members of the current Indian Fed Cup team.

Yuki’s parents, Chander and Indu, have become masters in handling their son’s tennis career. They have learnt from the mistakes they made with their daughters’ careers.

Yuki is keen on honing his game and improving his physical fitness. He wants to fully focus on playing in the men’s circuit.

* * * Yuki's road to victory

First round: bt German Sanchez Delfin (Mexico) 4-6, 6-1, 8-6.

Second round: bt Stephen Hoh (Australia) 7-6 (1), 6-0.

Third round: bt Dino Marcan (Croatia) 6-3, 6-1.

Quarterfinal: bt Richard Becker (Germany) 6-1, 7-5.

Semifinal: bt Adrien Puget (France) 6-4, 6-4.

Final: bt Alexandros-Ferdinandos Georgoudas (Germany) 6-3, 6-1.