CHENNAI: Twenty eighteen promises to be a big year for Yuki Bhambri. Having recovered from a spate of injury problems, he is primed to once again break the top-100 barrier, a place he hasn’t known since the first weeks of 2016. A nasty tennis elbow injury laid him low for close to six months and sent his rankings tumbling below 550. The comeback has taken time but India’s No 1 looks like he wants to make up for lost time.
His first three assignments of the new year offer hope. At the Tata Open Maharashtra, he displayed glimpses even though he suffered a loss against Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the second round. At the Australian Open, he qualified for the main draw of a Major for the first time in two years. He has carried on that form into the Chennai Open Challengers by reaching the final, beating Korean third-seed Duckhee Lee in straight sets.
The work he has put in in those three tournaments means he is knocking on the door of the top-100 again (significant because it assures direct entry into the Majors). The 25-year-old does not want to get carried away but is happy about how the season has begun. “(I) really hope I can get my hands on the trophy tomorrow (Saturday),” he said after his win over Lee. “That would give me a big boost. If you can have a good start to the year, it obviously helps to pick and choose tournaments.”
The World no 112, however, said he was under no extra pressure to win because of what’s at stake. “If I do win, it would be a step in that direction (getting into the top-100). But I don’t think I am under extra pressure because of it. If it doesn’t happen tomorrow, it may happen over the course of the next 2-3 weeks.” Even a year ago, a reaction like that would have made a few people snigger. The general reaction may have been one of ‘are you even fit enough to play for three consecutive weeks on Tour?’ Those problems, thankfully, seem behind him.
After joining hands with Abhimanyu Singh, a fitness trainer who worked previously with Somdev Devvarman, last March, his fitness record, his Achilles Heel, has improved a lot. So much so that he even joked about it on Friday. The size of the tape on his left knee had increased throughout the week but the reason caught reporters by surprise. “I had run out of the smaller ones,” he smiled.
On Saturday, he will face Jordan Thompson, the top seed, for the big prize. Last time they played each other, the Indian had handed an Australian ‘a lesson in how to play,’ according to Thompson himself.
Bhambri will be hoping that lightning does strike twice.
In the doubles final, the Indian duo of Vishnu Vardhan and Sriram Balaji beat off the scratch pair of Cem Ilkel and Danilo Petrovic in three sets. The win was the pair’s fourth title at this level.
Yuki Bhambri bt Duckhee Lee 7-5, 6-2, Jordan Thompson bt Pedro Martinez 6-1, 7-6 (5).
Doubles final: Vishnu Vardhan/ Sriram Balaji/ bt Cem Ilkel/ Danilo Petrovic 7-6 (5), 5-7, 10-5
Saturday’s match (final): Yuki Bhambri vs Jordan Thompson. From 2.45 pm.