‘I’m getting more confident’

“We have had a number of Futures. It’s time we have more Challengers,” says Yuki Bhambri.-K.V. SRINIVASAN

Yuki Bhambri, now ranked in the 150s, is working his way up inch-by-inch in what is perhaps the most difficult era for a youngster to make a mark. N. Sudarshan caught up with him recently.

“He’s raw, he doesn’t have the most beautiful strokes, but he has a very good head, and he knows how to play. He’s smart.” This was Nick Bollettieri, the famous American coach, credited with developing the likes of Andre Agassi, Jim Courier and Monica Seles, on Yuki Bhambri in 2009 when he was the top ranked junior in the world. Four years on, the 21-year-old Bhambri is now ranked in the 150s, working his way up inch-by-inch in what is perhaps the most difficult era for a youngster to make a mark.

On the sidelines of the Shriram Capital-P.L. Reddy Memorial ATP $50,000 Challenger, which the Indian went on to win, Bhambri spoke to Sportstar.

Excerpts:

Question: What do these one and half months mean to you? You have had good success at the Chennai Open, the Davis Cup, the Australian Open and now the ATP Challenger.

Answer: It’s obviously a very good start. But I feel my season started in August last year. That’s when I started playing regularly after injury. I have been gradually improving. I beat higher ranked players in the qualifying for different Challengers, people ranked in the 150s, 140s. Then at the Chennai Open I beat a top-60 and top-20 player. That was just the right step forward. Now I am getting more confident.

In 2009, you won the Australian Open junior title. In 2012 you broke into the 200. Now you are into the 150s. Are you satisfied with the progress?

I feel I could have done it a year sooner if I had been fitter. But it has been good. I have been adding new things to my game. There are signs that I am getting better. There is still a lot to be done. The key is to stay consistent with the current level of performance and play through the year. If I do that I’ll give myself a good chance to be in the top 100.

Your game, at times, seems to lack the firepower which others might possess. How do you compensate for that?

I have improved in everything. I wouldn’t say I have a particular weakness. I could probably develop a weapon for the beginning of my points like some of the big guys. I am working towards it. But overall I have a good game. Success has come when I have mixed things up a little bit like coming to the net more, which I worked on. I have learnt how to use my strengths and I think that’s been the key.

You have made the graduation from the junior to the senior level. What do you think is that extra bit you need at this level?

It’s become a lot more physical. You won’t see champions who are 17 or 18, like Rafael Nadal and Boris Becker anymore. It’s going to take a lot more time. Physically I need to improve. You need to be able to run around the court for three to four hours. That’s when you are going to be a harder player to beat.

Yuki Bhambri with his doubles partner Michael Venus. "I have always enjoyed doubles and wanted to do well," says Bhambri.-M. VEDHAN

On the senior tour, one tends to lose a lot more. Is that demoralising or part of a learning curve?

Obviously no one likes to lose. But you need to be patient and need to believe that you belong there. You need to keep working. Results are bound to come. It’s a very long road. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon.

You played abroad quite a lot in the last year or so. What did you imbibe and how have you put them to use?

The experience of playing higher level players has helped. When I got on court I told myself that I need to win these matches. This wasn’t there about six months ago when the feeling was more of an underdog. I now believe in myself a lot more and I go for the shots a lot more. Winning is important. Not just competing. That’s where I think I have become better.

How did your doubles partnership with Michael Venus materialise? Can you tell us a bit on the run to the third round at the Australian Open?

We have known each other for long. We practised together in Florida. We played a Challenger together last July and won it. We haven’t had a chance to play together since then. But we are here, doing well. He has broken into the top 100. Hopefully if we continue to do well, we should get entries into more tournaments.

I have always enjoyed doubles and wanted to do well. Playing at the Australian Open gave me the feel of the atmosphere. It helped me with my singles as well. Also by just being there, watching some of the greatest players, I learnt a lot.

You are in the top 150. Somdev Devvarman has been in the top 100. Apart from that we have a dearth of Indian players doing well. Your thoughts?

It will help if we have more Indians up there to take the game forward. For the first time we are having three Challengers. Already in the first we have seen four Indians in the quarterfinals. Five years ago no one would have seen that happen. The players are working hard.

But somewhere down the line I think the associations need to step in and conduct more tournaments. We have had a number of Futures. Its time we have more Challengers.