The mark of a champion

Yuki Bhambri with the ITF Futures trophy in New Delhi.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Strenuous training at the Nick Bollettieri Centre in Florida with top quality players has helped Yuki Bhambri make a successful transition to the men’s professional circuit, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

He is the future of Indian tennis. Yuki Bhambri has been making such progress in the last few months in the circuit that his success is generally taken for granted. From winning the Osaka Mayor’s Cup and the Orange Bowl to claiming the Australian Open junior title and becoming the world No. 1 junior, there has been a sure touch to Yuki’s game in recent times.

Not the one to be carried away by these successes, the smart 16-year-old has been training hard at the Nick Bollettieri Centre in Florida with top quality players and this has helped him improve his game and make the transition to the men’s professional circuit.

With his long-time coach Aditya Sachdeva working out the strategy for Yuki’s matches, not to forget the match-specific training before each round, it was no surprise that Yuki won back to back ITF men’s Futures singles titles in the heat and dust, back home in Delhi. Ranked 1467th, Yuki played on a wild card in the first week, but proved his class by galloping to his maiden professional title — the youngest Indian to do so — without dropping a set the whole week.

“This is the biggest step in my career so far. I have exceeded my own expectations, though I was confident of doing well, having matched the top 300 to 400 guys in training. I badly wanted this title,” said Yuki.

It was a similar story in the second week as Yuki, playing as a ‘special exempt’ as he had figured in the singles final when the qualifying event for the second tournament was in progress, breezed to his second title. He beat the best player, the No.1 seed Raven Klaasen of South Africa, in a heady climax. Yuki won the final 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5). Incidentally, he did not drop a set the whole week once again.

“It was one of the toughest matches. I think it is a tremendous job, winning back to back titles at any level. I always knew that I had a chance in the tournaments in India. I was hungry the first week and happy to win. The second week was even better, though I was a lot more relaxed, but kept my focus. It is very satisfying,” said Yuki.

The wins ensured 50 ATP points for Yuki. The effort also took him to No. 664 in the world rankings and among the top five in the Indian list.

Sanam Singh was three weeks short of his 18th birthday when he won the $10,000 ITF men’s tournament in Delhi in December 2005.

Yuki Bhambri... a tough cookie.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

Somdev Devvarman won his maiden ITF men’s Futures title in Kolkata a month after his 19th birthday in March 2004. It took Somdev four years to win his second Futures title as he had moved to the University of Virginia. He went on to make a mark by winning the NCAA singles title two years in a row, and has since become the No. 1 player for India by moving into the top-150.

Sanam is yet to win a second title, but has moved to the same University as Somdev in an attempt to bolster his tennis career.

Yuki, who has recently appeared for his Standard X exams, has set his sights firmly on steadily climbing the ladder of success in professional tennis.

With a fast-improving serve, Yuki moved very well on the court and stroked with imagination. More than anything, he showed the ability to handle the pressure with ease against quality opponents.

However, in the three tie-breaks in the two finals of the Futures — one against Vishnu Vardhan and two against Klaasen — Yuki showed that he could play his natural game irrespective of the situation.

The fact that he was given a wild card for the main draw of the Masters Series in Miami, which had players such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, had definitely strengthened Yuki’s confidence in his abilities.

“The good thing about Yuki is that he plays the big matches so well. That is the mark of a champion,” said Jaidip Mukherjea, India’s former Davis Cup captain, who has been closely watching the young man’s progress.

Yuki may not get to play in the Davis Cup World Group play-off tie against South Africa in September, but he is gradually getting ready for National duty. He had helped the Indian team finish No. 3 in the world in the Junior Davis Cup (under-16) competition last year.

A good game, a sound attitude and the willingness to work hard, combined with an intelligent approach, make Yuki a champion. He is over six feet tall and gaining in strength. He is relaxed on court and this helps him to play well. Yuki is also determined in pursuing his target, which is what makes him a dangerous opponent for anyone.

Having made a smooth transition to the men’s professional circuit, Yuki will also be testing his efficiency in the junior Grand Slams. He will be playing in the French Open in Paris after taking part in the two men’s Futures events in Kuwait.

Having had the first taste of success in the men’s world, Yuki is thirsting for more. That is a good sign for Indian tennis.