Yuki Bhambri ready for a sterling show

The quality of tennis that the 24-year-old, a former World No.1 junior, has played at the Chennai Open and the Australian Open has given a fair indication that he is right on track.

From being ranked a career-best 88 by the end of 2015, after winning a Challenger here in Pune, Bhambri has had a difficult time, grappling with a painful tennis elbow that kept him away from the courts for more than six months. He is now ranked 368.   -  R. Ragu

He may not have the rank to back this claim, but Yuki Bhambri will hold the key to India’s performance in the Davis Cup Asia-Oceania tennis match against New Zealand, starting on Friday.

The quality of tennis that the 24-year-old, a former World No.1 junior, has played at the Chennai Open and the Australian Open has given a fair indication that he is right on track.

From being ranked a career-best 88 by the end of 2015, after winning a Challenger here in Pune, Bhambri has had a difficult time, grappling with a painful tennis elbow that kept him away from the courts for more than six months. He is now ranked 368.

“I am feeling good. I have had enough matches. I am hitting the ball well,” said Bhambri, confident that all the sweat in training would bear fruit in the coming weeks. He has the best credentials to open the tie against New Zealand, particularly after having toyed with almost the same team two years ago in Christchurch.

There is room for improvement despite the sharpness he showed in whipping Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-1, 6-1 in the first round of the Chennai Open. “It was an one-off thing. Ramkumar is a much better player. I was very sharp that day. He has the game to get to the next level,” said Bhambri, even as he conceded that he would love to improve his overall game and get better with both power and accuracy.

Looking at New Zealand, Yuki observed that doubles would be its best bet. However, he recalled that India was expecting to be 2-0 or 2-1 up in Christchurch and was eventually 1-2 down, before winning the reverse singles on the last day. “They have the experience of having played many Davis Cup matches. They are a capable team, ” he said.

Bhambri did try to play a tournament before this tie, but said that it did not make sense to travel to Europe or America from Australia for one tournament, as there was no option elsewhere.

Playing Futures was a “not a rewarding” option for Bhambri, and said two rounds in a Challenger would give him the same points. “I am confident about my game to compete in the Challengers. There is no point playing at a lower level,” he quipped.

With the captaincy set to move from Anand Amritraj to Mahesh Bhupathi, Bhambri had good words for both.

“Everyone enjoyed playing under Anand. He came and watched matches in Vancouver and California. He kept track of us through the year. He was great on and off the court. He was calm and very helpful in tough situations. For him, captaincy was not a two-week job in a year. It is difficult to part ways,” he said.

He remarked that Bhupathi had tremendous knowledge apart from the experience of having competed at the highest level for so long. “Mahesh is a great champion. His knowledge of current tennis will come in handy,” he said.

Bhambri had bitter sweet memories of Pune. “I was hurting from the quarterfinals when I won the Challenger here to be ranked No.88. I used to warm up for 10 minutes and play those matches,” he recalled.

Bhambri is ready for another springboard performance here to launch his career into a fresh orbit.