In every aspiring tennis player’s career, there comes a stage when he has to make the transition from being the hunter to the hunted. Yuki Bhambri is now at that stage.
True, as and when he enters the qualifying rounds of the Grand Slams he will still be the hunter. But at tournaments such as this, the $50,000 KPIT ATP Challenger, he is the one being hunted.
Against World No. 319, Nikola Milojevic on Wednesday, Bhambri almost slipped, before recovering to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 to enter the last eight.
“If you meet a higher-ranked player, you play a lot freely,” he said after the win. “Especially when you are the underdog and gunning for players above you. That’s what happened [today].”
Right through the match, he constructed the points well. He moved Milojevic end-to-end, opened up the courts and often employed the old one-two, a wide serve and a forehand long-line. But the execution, as he admitted later, wasn’t up to the mark.
From being down 3-1 in the first set, he did well to get back to 4-4. But the way he conceded the decisive break to 5-4, by missing three sitters, is the sort of thing he would like to avoid.
“I made my life tougher,” he said. “I gifted games away and played a poor first set.”
Milojevic hit the ball flat and hard which Bhambri found tough to control. Also, the 23-year-old Indian’s substantially less powerful game meant that he had to hit the ball deep and extremely close to the tramlines to avoid the Serb’s strike zone. If he erred, the balls would invariably sit up for the easy put away.
The best of this was on display right at the start of sets two and three. He went 3-0 up in both. But he didn’t keep the level up. Milojevic, in spite of a double-fault ridden game, was allowed to creep back; more worryingly in the final set, when the 20-year-old broke with his opponent serving for the match at 5-3.
But Bhambri then perhaps played his best return game of the day. A down-the-line backhand winner, a stunningly disguised drop and an on-the-run forehand winner gave him the match.
Somdev crashes out
Somdev Devvarman's indifferent form this year continued as he lost 7-5, 6-2 to N. Vijay Sundar Prashanth.
"Tough day," he said. "Has been tough all season. I had a few chances in the beginning. But he played well and I didn't." Devvarman, in 2015, hasn't progressed beyond the second round in 15 of the 19 Challengers he has played.
"It's just been a struggle. Sums up my season - playing below average tennis. I am done for the year. I have a few issues to take care of physically and i have to come back strong next year."
"The idea was not to give him free points," said Vijay Sundar. "I had to stay with him. It was more mental because we know each other well."
"I knew it wasn't easy for him. He has not been having good results. And of course since the start of the year, I have improved as well."
Yuki Bhambri and Vijay Sundar are now the lone Indians left in the singles draw.
The results (Indians unless specified): Round two: Yuki Bhambri bt Nikola Milojevic (Srb) 4-6, 6-2, 6-4; Ilya Ivashka (Blr) bt Sumit Nagal 7-5, 6-3; James Ward (GBR) bt Vishnu Vardhan 3-6, 6-3, 6-4; Alexander Kudryavtsev bt Sanam Singh 6-4, 6-2; Adrian Menendez-MacEiras (Esp) bt Ramkumar Ramanathan 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5); Ti Chen (Tpe) bt Prajnesh Gunneswaran 6-7 (4), 6-1, 6-1; Evgeny Donskoy (Rus) bt Germain Gigounon (Bel) 6-4, 6-3.
Doubles: Quarterfinals: Maximilian Neuchrist (Aut) & Divij Sharan bt Milojevic (Srb) & Ramkumar 6-3, 6-2; Saketh Myneni & Sanam bt Gigounon & Yannick Mertens (Bel) 6-2, 6-3; Gerard Granollers (Esp) & Menendez-MacEiras w/o Nagal & Vardhan. Kudryavtsev & Purav Raja bt Chen & Michal Konecny (Fra) 6-4, 7-5