Yuki Bhambri may be the most famous in the family, but it was the lessons learnt from the tennis journey of sisters Ankita and Sanaa that paved the foundation for his sterling career.
More familiar as the coach of the current Fed Cup team which qualified for the World Group play-off, Ankita Bhambri was led on a nostalgic journey in an Instagram conversation with coach M Balachandran.
Ankita had competed in the Asian junior final against Sania Mirza. Later, she teamed up with the latter and took India to the fifth place in the world in the Junior Fed Cup under-16 event on European clay. While Ankita's powerful strokeplay was on display in the professional circuit - backed up by more than a dozen titles in singles and doubles - she had to step back in her prime. Now Ankita revels in the successes of her siblings.
‘’What Yuki has done is phenomenal. We don’t tell him that. He has been injured for a while. Once he is back, he will continue to reach the heights. He is very talented and very sharp’’, she observed.
The 27-year-old was the country's No.1 among the men after showing early promise as the world No.1 junior with an Australian Open junior crown to his name.
Ankita is equally proud of the path her younger sister Sanaa took, looking beyond tennis and taking on the flourishing world of marketing in the United States.
Speaking with Balachandran, Ankita also looked recalled a week-long training stint she had with the latter in Pune back in 2002. She said she learnt of the advantages of training in the evening during tournaments and key points about strategy ahead of a game during this time.
‘’I had just about made the Masters of the $5,000 circuit, as I had lost first or second round in three weeks. My dad had arranged training with you for that week. I won that tournament’’, she added.
Balachandran also warmly remembered Ankita and her father, Dr Chander Bhambri staying back and distributing sweets to everyone at his centre over catching the evening flight home after winning her title.
Even though her father never stepped on to the court, he would encourage Ankita to train with a bag placed on the baseline during serve to ensure a 'leg-drive'. Incidentally, that jump helped Ankita develop a strong serve.
Dr.Bhambri was also a man with a big heart and kept his home open for players to stay during tournaments in Delhi.
‘’Once when there were two weeks of tournaments in Delhi, we had Radhika Tulpule, Sonal Phadke, Sheethal Goutham and Liza Pereira staying with us. If you saved some money one week, it helped you play another tournament’’, Ankita added.
Besides supporting her family's tennis ambitions, Ankita acknowledged the significant role her father played in their education. She remembered him encouraging the her and Sanaa to read in the car during the 30-minute drive to the tennis centre everyday.
‘’We also carried books to tournaments. When we returned, there was test in the school and we were prepared’’, said Ankita.
She stressed that education plays as big a role as training for the game does in the development of a player.
‘’It keeps you focused and disciplined’’, she said.
As a 15-year-old Ankita got selected for the Asian Games in Busan in 2002, and said that the experience of being with the best players of the country, including Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, motivated her to train better.
Ankita said that Sania capitalised on her international exposure and came back a better player every time she saw her during the early years.
On her part, Ankita said that she gained by practising with boys, which made her develop the ability ‘’to always fight it out’’.
Drawing from her responsibilities of devising schemes for schools and clubs and her experience of working with kids, Ankita believes that young players need to train with purpose in every session and focus on all-round development.