Yuki bubbling with confidence

Yuki Bhambri with the Orange Bowl Trophy in Miami.-

If you are looking for a Grand Slam champion, in the junior events to start with, it does not require a genius to say that Yuki is the boy to back, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

By winning the singles title in the under-18 section of the Orange Bowl in Miami, the 16-year-old Yuki Bhambri has not only become the No. 2 in the world junior rankings but also the best hope for 2009.

Marcos Baghdatis (2003), Andy Roddick (1999), Roger Federer (1998), Nicolas Massu (1997), Marc Rosset (1988), Jim Courier (1987), Ivan Lendl (1977), John McEnroe (1976), Bjorn Borg (1972) and Tony Roche (1962) are some of the top stars who had won this prestigious tournament.

“It is definitely big, and one of the most important titles of my career. I have been doing well, but I needed this big one. I know that I am at that level and can perform. It helps boost my confidence,” says Yuki, of his performance in Miami.

The fact that he has followed some of the legends of the game in winning the Miami tournament adds to the conviction of Yuki, the younger brother of national champions Ankita Bhambri and Sanaa Bhambri.

“The fact that top guys like Federer and Roddick have done well gives me the belief that I am on the right track. They were my age when they won this tournament. I am really looking forward to 2009. It will be a great year,” says Yuki, who is quite convinced that his efforts would bear fruit.

The Orange Bowl is considered the fifth Grand Slam of the year. It is one tournament that all the top names, over the years, have played even though they may not have competed in some of the Grand Slam events.

“There is a lot of history behind the tournament. The atmosphere is terrific. All the top guys have won it. That is something very special about the tournament. You know that you are following the path of Federer,” says Yuki, understandably proud of his achievement.

After this victory, Yuki was immediately put into a higher level of training at the Nick Bollettieri Centre, for further tuning.

“Honestly I didn’t expect the sort of response that I got. I didn’t know that it was that big for the Americans. I had won another Grade ‘A’ tournament in Osaka, but this was something very very special for them. I was promoted and got to hit with top-100 guys. I hit with Kei Nishikori in the morning and ended playing sets with another Japanese Go Soeda. I have hit with Nishikori before, but he is in a different league now. It was great. I ended up playing with better players every day,” recalls Yuki.

The improvement in the standard of training apart, Yuki is generally pleased with the progress that he has made with his visits to the Nick Bollettieri Centre.

“Every time I have been there, there has been some kind of improvement. Fitness is world class. They have the best fitness trainer and gym. It really helps,” he says.

Yuki Bhambri.... happy with his progress.-SANDEEP SAXENA

Yuki had made the semifinal of the Australian Open in 2008 in the junior section, and is looking forward to improve the record.

“I am definitely looking forward to the Australian Open. I am hoping to win the Grand Slams this year,” he says.

Yuki is happy with the emphasis on the development of his game and physique, and hopes to sustain the good work and translate that into good results.

“I have worked on my serve. I have been working on my groundstrokes, volleys, improving my strength and consistency, and also mixing up the game. I have been working on covering the net and being more aggressive. Everything started to fall in place in Mexico and I am happy with the way things have shaped. It has been a great year and I am very proud of myself,” he says.

Yuki came close to world No.1 rankings. He missed out by 64 points to Tsung-Hua Yang of Chinese Taipei, who along with Noppawan Lertcheewakarn of Thailand became the first Asian boy and girl to be adjudged the world junior champions by the ITF. Yuki finished with 1110 points.

“Yes, it was in my mind to be the No. 1 in the world when I went to Orange Bowl. Yang actually deserved it. He was consistent the whole year. He did well in reaching the Australian Open final and won the French Open,” says Yuki, quite graciously.

Yang had also won the doubles titles at Wimbledon and Australian Open, apart from reaching the singles semifinal in the US Open.

The other player Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria, who had won both the Wimbledon and the US Open, finished third with 980 points.

Though he has a very good chance to be the world No.1, Yuki is categorical that he would focus on the men’s circuit, and restrict his entries only to the Grand Slams in the junior circuit.

He has got the wild card for the qualifying event of the Nasdaq Open in Miami by winning the Orange Bowl, and is pretty excited about that.

“I knew about the wild card only after I won the tournament. It will be fun and good experience to be in a tournament in which guys like Federer and Nadal play,” he says.

Yuki is planning to play the men’s circuits at home, and will train and compete in Europe on clay in preparation for the French Open. He wants to be around 500 in the rankings list, before he makes an attempt to get to the next level in the men’s circuit.

India is aiming for a Grand Slam champion by 2018 and is ready to spend Rs. 100 crores for the project. But it is a pity that the junior world No. 2 Yuki does not have the support that he deserves.

“I still don’t have a travel sponsor. The AITA gives tickets for the Grand Slams. It is getting very tough for my parents as well as for me. Money factor is always at the back of your mind. If you play two weeks in a row, you have to do well in the first week. If you don’t, you have to pay for hotel expenses. Nothing is cheap. I hope things will improve,” Yuki says.

The International Management Group (IMG) has been his best supporter, and has helped him get the international contracts from Adidas and Babolat, apart from arranging training for him at the Nick Bollettieri Centre.

“I am very grateful to the IMG. They are trying to get more support (for me),” he says.

Coach Aditya Sachdeva, who has been training Yuki from childhood, had travelled with him to the first three Grand Slams of 2008. He would be travelling with him again to Australia. Otherwise, it has been Yuki’s mother with him during the US Open and the Orange Bowl.

“Mom is hoping that the coach can travel more. He has done a great job. All depends on sponsors, and how much money you can afford. Right now it is difficult,” says Yuki.

If you are looking for a Grand Slam champion, in the junior events to start with, it does not require a genius to say that Yuki is the boy to back.