Yuki Bhambri is something of a problem-solver, a tennis player who uses court-craft and an understanding of the opponent to make up for a lack of firepower. But on New Year’s Eve at the SDAT Tennis Stadium, Bhambri found the 6ft 3in Robin Haase un-solvable. Despite not being at his best, Haase stepped it up when it mattered and won 7-5, 6-3 to enter the second round of the ATP Chennai Open.

The home crowd’s disappointment at Bhambri’s exit from centre court was off-set slightly by Prakash Amritraj qualifying for the main draw.

Playing on an outside court, Amritraj duelled back from a set down to defeat Britain’s James Ward 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 in the third and final qualifying round. He’ll face France’s Guillaume Rufin on Tuesday.

“I’ve been away for a while and it feels great just to be back on court,” said Amritraj, who is making a comeback after a break of more than two years. “I started at the bottom, today’s Day 180 or 179, I’ve been keeping a journal [since returning], and it’s nice that all the hard work is paying off.”

Bhambri has been working hard as well, aiming to strengthen his serve and improve his transition to the net. Both facets helped him against Haase — he had success with the wide and the body serve, and several times he came in, opportunistically, to knock off volleys. Although his serve was endangered in nearly every game of the first set, except the eighth, the 20-year-old kept with Haase till 5-All.

Bhambri did this by staying in rallies despite Haase’s superior movement and weight of stroke. He showed he could change the direction and tempo of a point, but he couldn’t quite pull the trigger. Twice he mis-hit inside-out forehands that would have given him an advantage. Top-50-level players punish such errors.

Haase himself wasn’t as consistent as he’d have liked. He struggled with his concentration; the crowd affected him — at least twice he remonstrated with the umpire about cell-phones ringing mid-point. The humidity seemed to sap both players as well.

Bhambri had his chances to break, twice at 30-40 and once at 40-Ad in the first set, and again at 30-40 in the first game of the second. But every time Haase found either an un-returnable serve or a serve-and-forehand combination.

Bhambri was more relaxed in the second set, and a freer swing helped him push Haase around the court a little more. But Haase had too much game to be threatened.

“It would have been incredible to win, but there were a lot of positives,” said Bhambri. “I was nervous to start with, I had my chances to break which I couldn’t take. He played very well on those points. But to stay with a top-50 player is very encouraging. If I can do that now, it’s only going to be better in the coming months.”

Soeda goes ahead

Earlier, in the opening match of the tournament, Japan’s Go Soeda, a semifinalist here last year, out-played Russia’s Evgeny Donskoy 6-1, 6-2. Though both players have frequented the Challenger circuit, their paths had never met before. When it did, Soeda’s ability to keep his ground-strokes deep, thus denying Donskoy the time to set up his explosive forehand, proved the difference.

The results: Singles: First round: 8-Go Soeda (Jpn) bt Evgeny Donskoy (Rus) 6-1, 6-2; 6-Robin Haase (Ned) Yuki Bhambri (Ind) 7-5, 6-3; Aljaz Bedene (Slo) bt Joao Sousa (Por) 6-3, 6-2; Edouard Roger-Vasselin (Fra) bt Andrey Kuznetsov (Rus) 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles: First round: 5-Stanislas Wawrinka (Sui) & Benoit Paire (Fra) bt Sanam Singh (Ind) & Vishnu Vardhan (Ind) 6-2, 5-7 (10-7).

Qualifying (final round): Ruben Bemelmans (Bel) bt Filip Krajinovic (Srb) 6-4, 6-2; Cedrik-Marcel Stebe (Ger) bt Andre Begemann (Ger) 6-4, 7-5; Prakash Amritraj (Ind) bt James Ward (Gbr) 5-7, 6-4, 6-4; Rajeev Ram (USA) bt Kenny De Schepper (Fra) 7-6 (7), 4-6, 6-1.

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