PUNE: The last time Yuki Bhambri was in Pune, he ran away with the ATP Challenger title. The venue—Balewadi Sports Complex—has had a massive facelift since. And even though the courts have been slowed down and heavier balls employed to counter the pace and bounce that come with Pune’s altitude, the top-ranked Indian played with a steady hand to start 2018 with a win.
Bhambri defeated wildcard entrant Arjun Kadhe 6-3, 6-4 in the opening round of the Tata Open Maharashtra on Tuesday. The gulf in rankings and experience was evident as Bhambri, despite not playing the best tennis, cruised to victory in an hour and 14 minutes. The first match of the season is always tricky. But the top-ranked Indian handled the pressure and conditions really well to subdue Kadhe.
The injury-prone Bhambri, ranked 118, walked out with his left knee taped, kinesiology tape on his left quad and a brace on his right elbow. Even though he did not move around as well as he usually does, his shots had enough depth and precision.
Kadhe literally left his mark on the refurbished centre court when one of his serves went right through the speedometer. It drew a hearty cheer from his local fans. The 23-year-old was consistently serving around the 200-kmph mark. But he is yet to control his best shot: his five aces were undone by five double faults. He served three double faults in the ninth game of the first set, to lose 6-3.
Ranked outside 600, Kadhe did not have the necessary tools to counter the conditions and was often guilty of over-hitting the ball. But the local lad did give Bhambri a few nervy moments. Kadhe broke Bhambri’s serves twice in the match, even early on in the second set for a 2-1 lead. But he couldn’t quite wrest control of the situation.
Bhambri saved his best for the last game, starting off with a blistering return of serve on the backhand. On the second match point, when the ball bounced back onto Kadhe’s half of the court after hitting the net chord, Bhambri let off a sigh of relief.
But things will get tougher. He will face Pierre-Hugues Herbert on Wednesday and may end up playing three matches inside 24 hours as he also plays his doubles first round later in the day.