Yuki rising

Yuki Bhambri’s focus is now on the Grand Slams. "Now I need to work more and improve. Staying in the top-100 is a challenge," he says.

Yuki Bhambri poses with trophy after winning the ATP Challenger in Pune.   -  PTI

Yuki Bhambri realised one of the most elusive goals in Indian men’s tennis by breaking into the top-100 in the world rankings recently. But after spending a week at No. 99, he lost six places to drop out of the top-100 bracket.

Yuki, however, got back into the top-100 following his 6-2, 7-6(4) victory over second-seeded Evgeny Donskoy of Russia in the final of the USD50,000 KPIT-MSLTA Challenger in Pune on October 31, which gave the Indian 80 ranking points. He has now re-drawn his objectives to not only stay longer in the elite bracket but also keep climbing up the ladder.

The fact that only a handful of Indian players — Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan, Leander Paes and Somdev Devvarman — have entered the top-100 in the last 50 years should give one a fair idea of the magnitude of Yuki’s achievement. Of course, Ramanthan Krishnan, who twice lost to the eventual champions (Neale Fraser in 1960 and Rod Laver in 1961) in the Wimbledon semi-finals, was ranked World No. 3, though unofficial, in those days.

Ever since he won the Australian Open junior title and became the World No. 1 in the junior section in 2009, Yuki has been trying to fulfil the promise he has showed. With the guidance of coach Aditya Sachdeva for the last 13 years, and with help from parents and sisters, Ankita and Sanaa, both tennis players, Yuki has been able to negotiate the tricky path with a lot more assurance.

If it was coach Shekar Menon who laid the foundation for a strong tennis career for the Bhambris, including Yuki, Sachdeva, who has been associated with the game for about 25 years, first as a player before turning coach, has guided Yuki, Ankita and Sanaa with success.

Importantly, hats off to the parents, Dr. Chander and Indu, for being able to sustain the interest of their three children in tennis at a time when the game has become very expensive.

At 23, Yuki has tremendous potential to break fresh ground. If the words of Somdev Devvarman, after he had beaten Yuki in the final of the Delhi Open USD100,000 Challenger in February this year, are any indication, then Yuki is likely to set a lot of records in Indian tennis.

Somdev had broken into the top-100 in 2010 and had reached a career-best rank of 62 the following year. Leander Paes, who is still going strong at 42 and is looking good for his seventh successive Olympics in Rio next year, had first broken into the top-100 in 1997, a year after he had won the singles bronze medal at the Atlanta Olympics. He was ranked World No. 73 in 1998 following a fine run in New Haven, where he beat among others the World No. 2, Pete Sampras.

Yuki has been climbing up the rankings rapidly despite the numerous injuries that kept pulling him down for months at a stretch in the last few years.

“It is not so much a good thing, but I am used to sitting at home for three or four months,” recalled Yuki, as he looked back at his journey, from the time he had become World No. 1 junior and had finished runner-up in the Youth Olympics.

When he was ranked around 400 earlier this season, Yuki had just one goal — to play out the season. “It was my belief that if I get one good season, I can do it. I have always been quick to climb up the rankings in six or seven months,” he said.

It has been a good season for Yuki even though he could not play a better part in the Davis Cup World Group playoff. He has been performing well in the big Challengers, winning the one in Shanghai.

Yuki’s focus is now on the Grand Slams. “Now I need to work more and improve (my performance). Staying in the top-100 is a challenge,” he said.

“It is important to balance everything — playing tournaments, staying healthy and trying to improve physically and mentally. It is going to be a lot more competitive. Have to get used to the pace at that level, every match. At the Grand Slams, (I have to) be ready for five sets. It is a conscious decision to build up my strength to help me be on court for three to four hours. It is no secret that I have always struggled. I need to reach the level and then push the limits,” said Yuki.

As the season is running out, Yuki does not have many points to defend. His goal is to ensure enough points and a good ranking to get a direct entry into the Australian Open.

He is keen on having a good training stint at the end of the season, possibly at the Nick Bollettieri Centre in Florida with some top players, to be ready for the season ahead.

Sachdeva has been able to derive a lot of satisfaction by being part of Yuki’s exhilarating journey. Having slogged like hell all these years, the coach is troubled by a painful hip. Yet he is excited about the young man’s challenges in the near future.

“It is a delight to work with a player like Yuki. He is very quick in learning the lessons and overcoming his shortcomings,” said the coach.

Yuki’s focus is clearly on staying in the top-100 and moving towards top-50. Half the battle would be won if he stays free from injuries. For the last two years, he has been travelling with a trainer, Nasir Ahmad, as much as possible to ensure peak fitness and efficient recovery.

If the coach or the trainer does not accompany Yuki, his mother Indu makes it a point to be with him to help him on and off the court.

“Yuki loves challenges and the big stage. Any coach would relish working with him,” observed Sachdeva, who conceded that tennis was the least of his concern at this stage of Yuki’s career. The attempt, according to him, is to keep Yuki fresh and hungry, both physically and mentally.

On a normal day, Yuki spends about three and half hours on court. Then one hour in the gym, 45 minutes of ground session. At times, he runs 10-12 kilometres. Otherwise, it is short one-kilometre runs. By his own admission, Yuki has been doing things in bits and pieces. He is now ready to put things together, push himself and stay motivated.

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