CHAT Yuki Bhambri, a wild card entrant at the Chennai Open this year, gears up for the big game
While many young people are in a frenzy, planning their New Year’s eve, and deciding what to wear and who their date for the evening should be, this lanky young boy seems unperturbed by it all. Instead he’s busy sweating it out on the tennis court. “I am used to this. I’ve spent the last two New Years playing at the Chennai Open,” smiles Yuki Bhambri, one of the wild card entrants to the Aircel Chennai Open.
The youngest of three siblings, Bhambri started playing when he was six. Both his sisters Ankita and Sanaa are professional tennis players too. “My sisters were playing the U-14 matches and I used to travel with them and that’s how I developed an interest in the game,” he says. With three of the family in the same sport, tennis often dominates dinner time discussions. “We try and avoid it but two of our cousins too are tennis players so we frequently end up discussing and sharing tips and advice,” he smiles.
The 20-year-old says he knew he wanted to get into sports. He did play quite a bit of other sports but gradually tennis took over. “Even now when I get time I play a little bit of cricket and golf.”
2012 has been a good year for Bhambri. “I reached my career best ranking of 177,” he says despite a ligament tear and an uncooperative ankle. Bhambri is now focussing on improving his net game. And of course interacting with pros such as Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi who are also part of the Open helps him hone his skills. “They are legends. By watching them play I have learnt a lot,”he says.
In an attempt to justify his wild card entry, Bhambri has been spending most of the time practising. “I am just working at winning as many games as I can. This is the only ATP event in India and I want to give it my best. When I am in Chennai I normally try South Indian food, dosa being my favourite and I go to the beach. But this time I haven’t yet had the opportunity to do so.”
He has fond memories of the 2009 and 2010 edition of the tournament and recalls winning his first match here last year. And what does he do to ease those sore muscles and unwind after a tough game or gruelling training session? I listen to music. I am a movie buff. I like watching Bollywood films — Aamir Khan and Shah Rukh Khan are my favourites. Among actresses I like Deepika, Katrina and Anushka.”
This year Bhambri joins a line-up that includes top-ranked players such as Janko Tipsarevic, Tomas Berdych, Marin Cilic, Stanislas Wawrinka among others. With so many players from other countries making it to the ATP Tour, why is it that Indian players struggle to make the jump from National/University matches to the ATP? “I think infrastructure is a concern. We don’t have adequate trainers. Associations can help by bringing in foreign coaches. Also it’s an expensive game and if you don’t get the backing it’s difficult. That’s why I guess a lot of parents might be finding it difficult to fund their children who are keen to play. That’s where corporates come in and help by sponsoring.” He acknowledges what the Government has done for tennis but feels it’s not enough.
Ask him if this is the last time Chennai will be hosting this tournament and he says, “I heard some rumours about the tournament moving to China... I am not sure. But I do hope we get to play here. The weather in this city is really nice this time of the year.”