Feature

Yuki Bhambri belongs in the top-100, says coach Aditya Sachdeva

The former India No 1 will return to the tennis tour after more than two years at the ATP 250 event in Singapore

By Deepti Patwardhan ·

As Yuki Bhambri prepares for yet another comeback from injury, his long-time coach Aditya Sachdeva believes the 28-year-old belongs in the top-100 of men’s tennis.

A former junior Grand Slam champion, Bhambri will make a much-anticipated comeback after more than two years at the ATP 250 event in Singapore, which begins on Monday. He made it to the main draw, which comprises of players like Marin Cilic, Ivo Karlovic and Adrian Mannarino, using a protected ranking of 127.

Bhambri, whose last competitive match came at the Antwerp Open in October 2018, will leave for Singapore on Thursday.

"It's different, this comeback," Bhambri told the Olympic Channel.

"Probably going to be a little tougher. It's not the ideal set of conditions, because of the pandemic. I haven't forgotten what it feels like to play, what it's like to hit a tennis ball."

The former India No 1 admits that there were times when frustration crept in and he thought of giving up the game for good.

“I had the option of grinding it out again, trying to find ways to get my knee better and try to come back, get my career back,” Bhambri said. “Or just stop, quit and do something else. But I just feel I have a lot more to achieve.

“There were times when I thought I wasn't going to be able to get back because I wasn't recovering (fast enough). I guess it is normal for these thoughts to come because you have to figure out what you want to do with your life. Just being around the tennis circuit, being on court, playing a little, even if it is just standing and hitting, it just helped keep me more in the zone and not give up.”

Ever since Bhambri won the 2009 boys’ title at the Australian Open, India’s first junior singles title since 1991 (Leander Paes, US Open), he had been touted as the next big thing in Indian tennis. But his career has been constantly set back by injuries.

The Indian had enjoyed the most productive season of his career when he laid low by injury. In 2018, Bhambri reached a career high of 83 on the ATP rankings and played all the four Grand Slams. His French Open campaign was weakened by an abdominal injury while Bhambri had to cut the season short due to a tear in the tendon of the right knee.

“We never thought that the injury lay-off would last that long,” said Sachdeva.

“(We are) hoping that he stays injury-free, because playing in practice and playing in a match are two different things. He’s been training a lot. I would say, physically, he’s the best shape he’s ever been.”

Yuki Bhambri is set to make a comeback at the ATP 250 event in Singapore

Bhambri, who first broke into the top-100 in October 2015, will benefit from the knowledge that he has made successful comebacks before. In 2017, he bounced back from a tennis elbow and having started the season ranked 474 he ended it at 116 in the world.

“He belongs there (in the top-100),” added Sachdeva. “That’s the kind of talent we are talking about. It all depends on how he can stay injury free. The more he can play without being injured, I am sure the results will start coming in, because he’s too good a player not to.”

The Indian star’s Instagram feed now seems like a well-curated list of ironman videos. Bhambri, unable to compete on court, has once again put the hours and the effort in to build his body for the rigours of the physically demanding tennis tour.

Bhambri was back at practice after the lockdown ended and sparred with Indian doubles star Divij Sharan during the off-season. Even though Bhambri makes a return to a tour that looks and feels much different now, given the Covid-19 protocols, he’s ready to fight his way back again.