Yuki Bhambri proves he is no lightweight

WHEN you are growing up, you need to grab the opportunities. For a 12-year-old Indian boy, a five week stint in Europe with the expenses taken care of by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) is a tremendous exposure.

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

Yuki Bhambri has the potential to make it big.-SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

WHEN you are growing up, you need to grab the opportunities. For a 12-year-old Indian boy, a five week stint in Europe with the expenses taken care of by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) is a tremendous exposure. Yet, the catch was that you had to be one of the top four in Asia to get the chance, though some of the leading countries like China, Korea and Japan did not figure in the field.

Delhi boy Yuki Bhambri looked a light weight in a field of heavyweights, in terms of physical appearance, but knew how to punch his way through, in the ITF Asian under-14 tennis championship. In a competition played in two legs to give a fair chance for the boys and girls to showcase their talent, tenacity and technical ability, Yuki lost only to the very best.

Having finished fifth in the first week, when he lost to the second-seeded Tsung-Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei, Yuki's task was cut out for the second tournament. Unlike the first week when he was overlooked for seeding, the fifth-seeded Yuki was drawn to face the top-seeded Pattrayu Chumpetch of Thailand in the quarterfinals.

Yuki was warmed up for the clash against the champion of the first leg as he had warded off a stiff challenge from Chung-Su Chen of Chinese Taipei as he recovered from being 1-3 down in the decider to prevail 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 in the pre-quarterfinals.

In the event, Yuki outplayed Chumpetch 6-3, 6-2 even as the Thai grappled with a painful wrist. There was no taking the credit away from Yuki who demonstrated a shrewd brain in mixing up the pace to unsettle his opponent.

As the national coach T. Chandrasekaran pointed out, Yuki could be overpowered, as was the case both in the quarterfinals of the first week and the final of the second, by the same opponent, Tsung-Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei.

The strongly-built Yang was a cut above the rest, and had lost only after a struggle that lasted three and a half hours in the first final against Chumpetch. With a big serve and huge strokes for a boy of that age, Yang was more than a handful for Yuki in the final as he romped home 6-4, 6-1. Yuki had put up a better fare in the first meeting when he lost 5-7, 4-6. In fact, Yang knew what to expect from the younger boy across the net and was better prepared the second time, though it had to be conceded that Yuki committed far too many unforced errors to make a fight of it.

Yuki was perhaps anxious to hit a few winners and erred in shifting from his top-spin routine. The purpose was, however, served as Yuki had done enough to be in the ITF Asian team for a tour of Europe in July.

Tsung-Hua Yang, winner of the second tournament.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Yuki had earned the admiration of coach C. G. K. Bhupathi during a Nike tournament in South Africa and another former player Gaurav Natekar was suitably impressed by Yuki in Australia last year.

The younger brother of national champions Ankita Bhambri and Sanaa Bhambri, Yuki has been diligently trained by coach Aditya Sachdeva. It will be interesting to see how well the boy develops and fulfils his potential. He may need to build weapons in the next couple of years when he would also be strengthening the basics.

In this context, it was a pleasure to see the 12-year-old Albina Khabibulina of Uzbekistan, a champion in the making who hardly put a foot wrong in two tournaments as she annexed both the singles titles without dropping a set and won one of the two doubles finals as well.

Playing sharp and moving smart, Albina had a superb sense of timing that should see her become a tough professional in due course.

"To me she looks a top 50 or better player. She is technically much better than what Sania Mirza was'', said Suresh Menon, the ITF supervisor for the championship. Having been the ITF Development Officer for Asia for more than a decade, Suresh has seen the best of talent in the region.

"There is tremendous talent in Asia. The boys final in the first week was the best match of the championship. Both Chumpetch and Yang played top quality tennis for such a long time. They were not holding back anything. The only thing is they don't make the transition. We have only one Paradorn Srichaphan. Others are still struggling to make the breakthrough'', said Suresh, as he aptly summed up the Asian scenario.

The eagerness to make the ITF team forced one of the parents to play his ward who had been diagnosed to have contracted chicken pox. It showed a desperation that was alarming, to say the least.

Christopher Marquis had done well to make the semifinals in the first week and needed another good run to make the Asian team. He took the court in the quarterfinals of the second tournament despite having confirmed to have contracted chicken pox. The news reached the supervisor Suresh Menon only midway through the second set and the boy eventually retired at 1-6, 1-4 against Cheng-Peng Hsieh of Taipei, the younger brother of another fine player who had made an impact on the WTA Tour at a young age, Su Wei Hsieh.

Albina Khabibulina won both the girls' singles events.-SANDEEP SAXENA

"It is for the parent and the captain of the team to take the decision. I can't ask the boy to leave the court unless the doctor tells me the details. It is contagious and the other players were in danger of contracting the disease'', said Suresh.

The other eight Indian players were unable to make much use of the opportunity, except for Sameer Paranjape making the doubles final in partnership with David Agung Susanto of Indonesia in the first week.

"I can see some of the players being overweight'', said Suresh, who was otherwise more worried about overaged players figuring in the teams.

The Indian coaches would do well to impart the correct basics for the wards and guide them about the right food as well. Of course, most of the players would have learn't a lot from the two-week exercise. They would do well to remember the lessons to give themselves a fair chance for a bright future as tennis professionals.

The results Second tournament:

Boys (final): Tsung-Hua Yang (Tpe) bt Yuki Bhambri 6-4, 6-1; Semifinals: Yuki Bhambri bt Cheng-Peng Hsieh (Tpe) 6-2, 6-2; Tsung-Hua Yang bt Abdulnour Bronou (Syr) 6-3, 6-3; Quarterfinals: Yuki Bhambri bt Pattrayu Chumpetch (Tha) 6-3, 6-2; Cheng-Peng Hsieh bt Christopher Marquis 6-1, 4-1 (conceded); Abdulnour Bronou bt Ryan Cheung (Hkg) 3-6, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5); Tsung-Hua Yang bt Francis Alcantara (Phi) 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Doubles (final): Chung Su Chen and Cheng Peng Hsieh (Tpe) bt Tsung-Hua Yang (Tpe) and David Agung Susanto (Ina) 6-3, 7-5; Semifinals: Tsung- Hua Yang and David Agung Susanto bt Abdulnour Bronou (Syr) and Sameer Paranjape 6-3, 7-5; Chung Su Chen and Cheng Peng Hsieh bt Francis Alcantara (Phi) and Yuki Bhambri 6-2, 6-4.

Girls (final): Albina Khabibulina (Uzb) bt Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (Tha) 7-5, 6-3; Semifinals: Albina Khabibulina bt Nicha Lertpitaksinchai (Tha) 6-2, 6-4; Noppawan Lertcheewakarn bt Alexandra Kolesnichenko (Uzb) 6-4, 6-0; Quarterfinals: Albina Khabibulina (Uzb) bt Satjaporn Mahajaroenkul (Tha) 6-2, 6-3; Nicha Lertpitaksinchai (Tha) bt Shweta Kumari Solanki 6-2, 6-3; Alexandra Kolesnichenko (Uzb) bt Yun Ku (Tpe) 6-3, 6-1; Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (Tha) bt Al Nabhani Fatma (Oma) 6-3, 6-1.

Doubles (final): Albina Khabibulina and Alexandra Kolesnichenko (Uzb) bt Nicha Lertpitaksinchi and Satjaporn Mahajaroenkul (Tha) 6-4, 2-0 (retired).

First tournament:

Boys (final): Pattrayu Chumpetch (Tha) bt Tsung-Hua Yang (Tpe) 4-6, 7-5, 6-4; Semifinals: Pattrayu Chumpetch bt Ryan Cheung (Hkg) 7-5, 7-6 (5); Tsung-Hua Yang bt Christopher Marquis 6-1, 6-0; Quarterfinals: Pattrayu Chumpetch bt Cheng-Peng Hsieh (Tpe) 7-6 (4), 6-4; Ryan Cheung bt Mansingh Athare 6-4, 1-6, 6-3; Christopher Marquis bt Pao Wichayaketsophorn (Tha) 6-1, 6-2; Tsung-Hua Yang bt Yuki Bhambri 7-5, 6-4.

Doubles (final): Cheng-Peng Hsieh and Tsung-Hua Yang (Tpe) bt David Agung Susanto and Sameer Paranjape 7-5, 6-3; Semifinals: David Agung Susanto and Sameer Paranjape bt Albert Godjali and Tito Farulian Hutauruk (Ina) 5-7, 6-2, 7-5; Cheng-Peng Hsieh and Tsung-Hua Yang w.o. Chung Su Chen (Tpe) and Pongsakorn Hemyakorn (Tha).

Girls (final): Albina Khabibulina (Uzb) bt Noppawan Lertcheewakarn (Tha) 6-4, 6-1; Semifinals: Albina Khabibulina bt Nicha Lertpitaksinchai (Tha) 6-2, 6-0; Noppawan Lertcheewakarn bt Yun Ku (Tpe) 6-3, 6-0; Quarterfinals: Albina Khabibulina bt Beatrice Gumulya (Ina) 6-2, 6-1; Nicha Lertpitaksinchai bt Janaki Rao 6-2, 1-6, 7-5; Yun Ku bt Geraldine Leong (Hkg) 6-0, 6-3; Noppawan Lertcheewakarn bt Shweta Kumari Solanki 6-2, 6-2.

Doubles (final): Nicha Lertpitaksinchai and Satjaporn Mahajaroenkul (Tha) bt Albina Khabibulina and Alexandra Kolesnichenko (Uzb) 6-4, 6-3.