In 2022, Yuki Bhambri has had plenty of success in doubles, winning five Challengers and two ITF events with compatriot Saketh Myneni. The 30-year-old from Delhi, who was once ranked 83 in the world in singles before injuries derailed his career, has also shown glimpses of his former self in the format. The next challenge for Bhambri is the World Group I Davis Cup tie against Norway which takes place on September 16-17.
From Lillehammer, Norway, the venue for the Davis Cup tie, Bhambri spoke to Sportstar about his season so far, the upcoming Davis Cup tie, his plans for singles, the ongoing WTA250 Chennai Open and more.
Playing with Saketh, how has the experience been and is there any particular title that is the favourite amongst the seven you have won?
It’s been good. We’ve known each other for a very long time. So, it helped ease the transition of being able to play together. I don’t know if we have a favourite one that stood out but for me, Porto was a really good one and so was Prostejov because it was the first one on clay.
We beat some top teams to make it through. In Porto, we had to come back a couple of times from behind. Those two would be my favourite ones to pick out of the five (Challengers) that we have won this year.
How tough is it to survive on the Challenger circuit considering the number of matches you play is almost similar to an ATP250 but the points you get are not a lot? How mentally tough do you need to be?
It is (tough) and the ranking is skewed that way. For singles, it's still okay. You can make the jump into the top 100 to get into tournaments but for doubles, you don't get into ATP events unless you're 70-80 in the world or the Grand Slams. That's where everybody wants to play.
We are well aware of that. That's why we've gone from strength to strength and we haven't been satisfied. Every tournament that we play, we look to try and win it because we know how difficult it is to make that breakthrough and to be able to play those ATP events. That's what the goal has been and still is to be able to play the bigger events so that it just gets easier.
It's not a very big jump, at least from the initial 250s to where we play. At least you know the few top-seeded guys in the Challenger level. It's just about getting an opportunity for us to be able to play those and then maximise on that.
This year has all been about trying to do as well as we can try, keep winning and get the ranking up so we can be in this position to compete for the bigger events.
Since it is difficult to get your ranking up on the Challenger circuit, do you think we need more ITFs and Challengers at home so that it’s easier for the Indian players and there are more opportunities to increase your ranking without thinking about travel and other expenses?
India did a good job 5-7 years ago when for three or four years, we had at least two to four Challengers every calendar year. We had about eight to 10 futures which helped. You saw a lot of the guys coming up.
You look at a country like France, there is a Challenger every week. In America right now, they had the whole US swing. There are tournaments still, literally, till the end of the year. You can stay in the US and keep playing till Christmas. You don't have to travel. Europe’s the same even though in Europe, it's so much easier if you're around, to travel from one country to another. The distances are shorter.
Each country has a bunch of events. Italy has 25 events, France 20. Just Challenger levels, forget the futures, forget the ATP events that they're all hosting. That's the reason why you see so many players coming through and point to this secret that Italy, France and Spain have so many players coming through because the opportunities are there. Where there are going to be opportunities that is where we’re going to see more players coming through.
It is (tough) and the ranking is skewed that way. For singles, it’s still okay. You can make the jump into the top 100 to get into tournaments but for doubles, you don’t get into ATP events unless you’re 70-80 in the world or the Grand Slams. That’s where everybody wants to play.
— Yuki Bhambri on difficulties in rising up in the rankings via Challenger events
India, in the past, had done a good job. From 2013 to 2016, we had the Pune Challenger as well. There is Delhi on the calendar. Bengaluru has been there for the last couple of years. With an ATP event, it was a great setup.
Since COVID, instead of going upwards, Challengers have gone downwards, not hosting anything at all. But as players, you do the best that you can and with what you have.
The next event for you is the Davis Cup tie against Norway. Unfortunately, Rohan Bopanna had to withdraw but at the same time, his replacement is Saketh. What does he bring to the team? How is your preparation?
Nothing can replace the experience that Rohan brings. He’s been playing Davis Cup for almost 15, maybe even 20 years now. He’s been there for a very long time but India generally always has had a plethora of doubles options. The players have done well.
Of course, in terms of experience, in terms of skill, you can’t replace Rohan but Saketh is a capable replacement for this tie. As a team, we feel that we can do well here. You’ve got to win those three matches and we’re capable of it. Going into it, the team is going to be confident when it comes to stepping on the court on Friday.
You came back from injury (tendonitis) and started playing singles again. How is the knee holding up? How do you keep it in shape?
I feel fine. Some days are bad, mostly good days, but for the most bit, I've been okay. My goal was to try and play at least some tennis this year and we are almost there at the end of the calendar year. Once this year finishes, I will reassess and see where and how I want to approach things and go about it but so far so good.
I've had a couple of opportunities to play the Slams. I managed to win a round on the hardcourt ones in Australia and the US.
Some success in the doubles. No complaints, but hopefully, once the year ends, I will take a call on how I want to progress and how I want to go about playing singles and doubles.
You are the 2009 Junior Australian Open champion. Have you recently come across any promising Indian junior? Someone who has impressed you?
It's usually more of the current crop. I have been out for so long. I haven't been around the tennis scene and unfortunately, we don't get to see a lot of the 14-15-year-olds around but I have been hearing names.
I know Rushil Khosla from a few times I practised with him a few years ago. I know Manas Dhamne has been doing well. There are a couple of these younger ones who are trying to make their mark, who have started to now compete on the ITF circuits and won a few ITF tournaments.
But it's still early. You eventually end up seeing mostly Indians start to progress and do well once you hit the senior circuit and which is usually anywhere between 18-19 years of age.
India does end up producing someone every 10, 15 or 20 years. Hopefully, there will be another one coming soon. We never know.
In February, we had the ATP250 event in Pune and now we are having the Chennai Open. There are talks of having the ATP event back in Chennai next year. What do you think about these tour-level events being held in India?
It's great. Chennai deserves a tour event. Most of our New Years, and most of my tennis career New Years' have been spent in Chennai every January. We're all been there for 6-8 years and since Pune started hosting it, Chennai did a good job of getting the WTA event because it's a great venue.
It has a great tradition of tennis and has always produced great tennis players from Tamil Nadu. They deserve some of the bigger events and it's good to see the association recognizing that and taking this step forward. They didn't have the ATP for the last couple of years, but they went ahead and had a WTA.
India needs to host ATP events whether it is Pune, Chennai or any other city for that matter. We've seen over the years how the Indians have faired, how important it has been and how big a stepping stone it has been for a lot of the players as well in the past and currently as well.
The associations and the state must recognize that it's important to have both the ATP and WTA event in the country.
In the Chennai Open, all five Indians who were involved in the qualifiers got knocked out in the first round. Only Ankita and Karman have been given main draw wildcards. Do you think India is playing catch-up in this sense? How can India bridge the gap?
By hosting the events. In Chennai, in the beginning, it was the same scenario with the men as well.
A lot of the women haven't had the experience. They are all ranked between 300 to 500-600 level, which is usually again the ITF circuit or the Challenger. The women do not have the Challenger. It is more of the 25Ks, the 50Ks and the 60Ks.
This is a step up. It's also important for the girls to be able to play this and experience it and understand what level they need to be at to compete. You only get that by playing these matches and playing at this level.
None of the Indian girls is going to get an opportunity at any other event due to their ranking. That's why it's important to keep hosting this and yes, we are playing catch-up, but you will see in a couple of years. Maybe not even a couple of years, maybe a year, maybe two years. You will see someone breakthrough. That's what happened on the men's side and that’s what can also happen on the women's side. It's important to continue it as well, regardless of how the results are of the women players.
There’s still Ankita and Karman is the second wildcard. I'm sure they have a few doubles wildcards for the Indian girls and already two direct entries as well.
I’m sure we’ll see success from them at this event as well.
Winning a Grand Slam is the ultimate dream. How long can it take for an Indian to reach that level?
We're still aiming for an Indian at being able to make the Grand Slams and win matches in the Grand Slams. Be consistent at that level.
That itself, at the moment, is an achievement.
It is not a tennis-friendly system that we have in India. You don't have that kind of setup. Everyone who's doing it is doing it by themselves and you're always going to then churn out maybe one boy, one girl every couple of years who have maybe had the opportunity to train abroad or had had some backing or had some system in place.
It's not going to be a regular sight of seeing players come in because the structure isn't built or isn't there like we have witnessed in countries like the USA or France or Spain or Canada even for that matter.
More coaching, better facilities. It’s not there yet and if it's there, it's maybe centred around one place and you can't have that in a big country like India. Everyone has to come in and contribute in their own way.
Was there any favourite match you watched at this year’s US Open and who are you rooting for in the men’s final?
I watched it in bits and pieces. I did end up watching a couple of games of the Kyrgios-Medvedev match.
For me, the standout was the Jannik Sinner-Alcaraz quarterfinal that they played.
It's another final where you're going to have a new world number one and of course, a new Grand Slam champion.
Tennis and the world needs to get used to it since this is probably going to happen a lot more where you're going to have a lot more different Grand Slam winners now that Nadal is not playing as much and Djokovic has been sidelined due to not being able to play due to his vaccination status.
You are going to see a lot of new faces and a lot more new Grand Slam winners. I’m hoping (jokingly), that if Ruud ends up winning, he decides to take a break and doesn't show up for Davis Cup. If that's the case, I'm going for Ruud to win the US Open.
This interview was conducted on September 11. As it turned out, Alcaraz beat Ruud in the US Open final and Ruud, at the moment, is in Norway’s Davis Cup squad for the tie against India.