CHENNAI: “I need to play a full season first.” For many years now, Yuki Bhambri has been fending off the singular question ‘when will you realise your potential?’ from all and sundry, including himself, with that answer. Then, 2015 happened. He first broke into the top 100 a fortnight ago, but taking the following week off sent him back to 105. On Monday, thanks to victory at last week’s Pune Challenger, his new ranking is World No 89. That should keep the naysayers quiet for a while!
With two titles from five finals at this level in 2015, the 23-year-old knows his job has only just begun. ‘Full season’ accomplished, it’s time to check off other boxes and live the dream. His 6-2, 7-6 (7/4) triumph over second seed Evgeny Donskoy was the first time he won a Challenger as the top seed. It was also his first event as one. “I’ve never been ranked high enough to merit it before. There is a different kind of pressure that comes with it. Instead of being a pursuer, one becomes the target. The role reversal feels almost surreal,” Yuki told Express.
The Delhi lad has one more tournament to go – the Hua Hin Challenger in Thailand this week – following which he will shut down his season, having participated in 24 tournaments as well as two Davis Cup ties. Even the popular off-season leagues will be bypassed in favour of pre-2016 preparation. The making or breaking of a campaign depends on it. “At this level, one can’t take anything for granted. Everyone is so good, that looking ahead is an exercise in futility. Winner one week and first-round loser in another is commonplace, but to rise among the ranks, one has to find the necessary consistency.”
If Yuki can hang on to his spot in the top 100, he will get a direct entry into the Grand Slams, but ATP tourneys have different cut-offs due to smaller draws. He will have to play the qualifying rounds in some of those – it’s not all wine and roses. “In some places the direct acceptance is limited to the top 40, while others allow top 70 and in some cases top 120 as well. I’ll play wherever possible... honestly, it’s a thrill to just be part of a new group,” he added.
As the saying goes, there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Hopefully Yuki can overcome the pitfalls; there’s much at stake. After all, he may be the new blueprint for an Indian singles player.