India’s Yuki Bhambri settled in nicely after a scratchy start to defeat Italy’s Marco Cecchinato 7-5, 6-1 in the opening round of the qualifiers for the Chennai Open here on Saturday.
In the next round, he will face Argentina’s Nicolas Kicker, who overcame a tough challenge from Indian wild card Sasi Kumar Mukund. The Argentinian won a tight match 6-7, 6-3, 7-5.
Prajnesh Gunneswaran, the other Indian in the draw, also made it to the final qualifying round with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Japan’s Hiroki Moriya.
Yuki Bhambri, returning from a tennis elbow that ruled him out of action for close to six months, had a rusty start to the game in windy conditions. Wearing an elbow brace to protect his injured hand, he struggled with his serves and was down 2-4 in the first set, but it helped that his opponent Cecchinato, ranked 187, wasn’t doing any better. Both the players could muster only short rallies and Bhambri recovered enough to take the first set 7-5 with a deep forehand winner.
The second set, however, was a different story altogether. Gaining in confidence and cheered on by his mother Indu, Bhambri began pushing the 24-year-old Italian to the baseline and induced errors from him. A tap here, a couple of forehand winners there, and with a one-handed backhand winner down the tramline, Yuki had settled into a pleasing rhythm and started dictating play.
Cecchinato, after having an argument with the chair umpire for a line call, started looking agitated and began missing easy returns. Egged on by a considerably large crowd, Bhambri broke the Italian’s serve to at 15-40 to seal the match in one hour and 10 minutes. “It was very windy when the match started, we just couldn’t hold on to our serves. Rustiness and nervousness were also part of the reason I struggled early on,” he later explained.
The 24-year-old Indian had a first serve percentage of only 50 in the match and he said he will look to improve his overall game, including serve and passing shots. Looking ahead to his next opponent Kicker, Bhambri said he will try to get tips from Mukund and work on it.
“I saw the scores (of Mukund’s match). It was very close. A good, fantastic effort from Mukund, pushing a player who is ranked close to the top 100. It is hard to lose such a match but I will try to get tips from him and hopefully do well,” Bhambri said.