CHENNAI: Yuki Bhambri knows pain like the back of his hand. At 29, he's supposed to be at the peak of his tennis career. The reality, though, is somewhat different. In fact, in 2021, he had come around to the conclusion that if one final throw of the dice didn't work out in terms of his tennis career, he would retire from the sport this year.
It depended on him being fit and healthy and playing tennis in 2022. Luckily for him, the back end of 2021 worked out kindly for him. An ITF doubles title in India saw him return to competitive action after a seven-month absence. He dedicated everything to make the trip to Australia to begin his season. Two tournaments — including qualifiers at the Australian Open — followed in the span of a week. The last time he played two events in January was in 2018.
2018 was also the last time he won a tour-level main draw match (Miami). That was until Monday when he beat Josef Kovalik in the first round of the Pune Open.
Given the context of his last four years, it was a big win for the former junior World No 1, something Bhambri acknowledged. "Big win physically and mentally," he said after the win. "It was nearly three hours, moving forward the focus is on match by match, week by week." It's kind of understandable that the world No 863 hasn't set a target for the time being. "If I'm playing throughout the year, the ranking will take care of itself. I could be No 100 in the world or 500 in the world... right now it's all about giving myself the opportunity to play."
One can understand this mindset considering the mental and physical challenges he has faced in the last four years. "There were days when I felt like not getting out of bad, not going to the gym (in 2021)," the 29-year-old said. "End of the day, I knew I had to try everything in my power to give myself a chance. Set myself a timeline, keep pushing."
What also keeps him going is the multiple feel-good stories of athletes coming back after injury layoffs to make an impression. "There are many stories like Thanasi (Kokkinakis who after a long layoff won the Adelaide 250 event in January)... the most famous one if of course (Rafael) Nadal. All of them inspire me in their own way. It just shows the importance of keeping at it, it's really possible to come back."
The next challenge is a meeting against Italy's Stefano Travaglia for a place in the quarterfinals.
Select results (Rd 1): Joao Sousa bt Arjun Kadhe 6-7 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-2.