Yuki Bhambri went over a year without a racquet in hand. For someone who had been playing tennis for a little over two decades, the injury that had sidelined him from the courts for nearly 16 months was starting to consume him from the inside.
“It was tough mentally,” Yuki Bhambri told the Olympic Channel. “But, knowing that I wanted to come back keeps me going and pushing.
“To keep going when I didn’t feel like it was also difficult. There were days before I couldn’t really get the treatment. I used to get up on those days and stare at the wall helplessly as I didn’t know what to do,” shared the 27-year-old.
He last played tennis during the 2018 European Open held in October that year, and his return has been on hold ever since. The Indian ace now wants to ensure that he is fully fit before he returns to the court to face the rigours of the sport.
“People don’t realize that tennis is very demanding physically,” he explained. “It is more so now than it was 15-20 years ago. Tennis has changed a lot and is different from what it was 15-20 years ago. You don’t have the fast courts that used to be.”
“Even in Wimbledon, we can see the grass-court having more rallies that wasn’t the case before,” he added.
Yuki Bhambri, nevertheless, is pushing himself further to be on par with the world’s best. “It’s something, many Indians have done well,” he pointed out. “Like Somdev (Devvarman) never really had many problems.
“(Rafael) Nadal had injuries but he has incredible fitness as well and will go down as one of the greatest of the game. You need some luck and some of the right training and the team,” said Yuki Bhambri, whose injury was correctly diagnosed by Rafael Nadal’s doctor.
According to his own estimates, Yuki Bhambri expects to take another month or two to make his competitive comeback.
“I want to be able to do the French Open and Wimbledon, which are the immediate goals,” he said. “So, I am definitely looking to return to the court before the clay court season starts. I also want to really push through to the US hard court summer.”
Returning to action is one thing but Yuki Bhambri knows it’s a long road ahead for him if he’s to scale the heights that he had soared prior to his injury when he was beating the likes of Gael Monfils.
“Those were different times when I played Monfils,” he recalled. “It was a different satisfaction knowing that you could compete at that level. It was a turning point as well as you don’t play those players day in and day out and you know you work hard to play those big tournaments and give competition to those big players. So, it pushes you in a way.”
His performances peaked in the first half of 2018 when he was the runners-up in the inaugural Chennai Challenger and enjoyed a good run in the Indian Wells Masters too. He then went on to win the first Challenger title of the season at the Santaizi Challenger by defeating compatriot Ramkumar Ramanathan.
“February to March of 2018 were really the highlights of my career and it was the best tennis I have played,” he reflected. “You can use that experience to come back as you know you have achieved that.
“You know now, it’s not starting completely from scratch. I know where and how I need to go, how to target tournaments and I know how to progress in them.”
On Indian tennis’ Tokyo 2020 ambitions, Yuki Bhambri seemed optimistic. “Hopefully, we will see many Indian singles guys keeping up with the level of competition. It’s heartening to see youngsters like Sumit Nagal and Sasi Kumar Mukund coming through as well.”
However, he was far more reserved when talking about his personal ambitions for the Olympics. “Olympics is the one tournament that I haven’t been able to play but have heard so much of. Hopefully, I will get there in 2024. But I sincerely hope a team reaches there in 2024. It’s tough with the rankings but I hope we get a doubles team. That’s one tournament I really want to tick off. For me, 2024 is a more realistic target.”
Tennis, of course, is a discipline that India has been successful in during the past.
Leander Paes won bronze in the singles category during the Atlanta Games in 1996 and the All Indian Tennis Association (AITA) will be hoping that in Yuki Bhambri and the rest of India’s talented tennis contingent, they have another potential Olympic medal winner in the not so distant future.