‘I was match point down in the first round but came back and ended up winning the Australian Open’ – Yuki Bhambri

Excerpts from the interview with the top Indian ATP player Yuki Bhambri on the Instagram Live session.

How is your recovery so far?

It is not at 100% yet but it is getting better. I have definitely made progress from what it was over a year and a half ago. So I’m back on court and hitting balls, trying to get back in shape, but I’m still a long way from where I should be.

Have you started playing any practice matches?

I haven’t tried so far because there hasn’t been any reason. It’s not like I’m going to get back on the courts for a tourney. I’m probably still going to be taking it slow and trying to recover. I don’t think there’s gonna be much tennis for me this year anyway. It is probably going to be 2021.

Tennis is a very demanding sport and most athletes tend to have few injuries over the course of their career. Any routines that you do to ensure that the same part of the body is not injured again?

You tend to focus a bit more on that body part, you are a bit more aware and try and not get injured again. One tends to add few more exercises into the rehab. For example, I had my tennis elbow injury in 2016, I still feel okay and I don’t have any issues. I would still make sure that my elbow is good, do exercises for that, for my forearm and for my shoulder. Same with my knee. Same with my any other body part.

One tends to be a bit more aware about that injury and add specific routine. So that’s something that I have done and fortunately, its been pretty good.

When you recover and come back on to the tour. Does the injury play any role at the back of your mind in terms of how you move about and so on?

It’s not something that you can avoid. It’s not as if I can I can suddenly stop running on a tennis court, not run for this ball and so on. I think in Tennis, it’s all very dynamic and you have no control once you’re there. I think that’s why you have the time off for you to really come back stronger and better so that you’re not thinking that during a match because there is no stopping once you’re out there.

With the lockdown ending in India recently, how are you keeping in touch with all your coaches?

A couple of times a week. Delhi – its still been hard and we’ve still not been able to practice freely. We’re still worried about the virus a bit. Fortunately, I have my cousin Prateek Bhambri, who’s been pretty good at hitting the ball and has surprised me with his coaching skills as well. He has been doing a pretty good job.

I’ve been in touch with both Stephen Koon and Aditya Sachdeva – going through things to work on and what I need to do.

We’ve seen your videos and Prateek says that you coached him on Table Tennis.

Prateek has also been relatively free due to COVID-19 and so he has been joining us for the Table Tennis sessions. We’ve been helping him a bit on his TT skills and he has been working on my Tennis skills.

Is there something that you should have done differently as a junior?

Looking back – at that point of time, it is very hard with the amount of success that I had. I was the Junior World No.1 and won the Australian Open – it is very difficult to change things then because you are continuously moving up the ladder and achieved most of what is there to achieve.

Going to the Pro circuit, I tried to do as much as I could. Physicality was the difference when I was transitioning and Tennis has only gotten harder. That is something that I have always continued to focus on. Tennis hasn’t been as much of an issue for me.

Looking back, I wouldn’t change a whole lot from what I achieved from where I was.

Lot of the top Indian players have had injury history. Is there some sort of systematic improvement needed with our coaching system to minimise them?

It is better now. There is a bit more awareness amongst the players, parents and the coaches focusing on the physical aspect. There is more individualised attention now which was not the case during my days where it was more about group sessions.

I think the kids are now more aware on YouTube and Instagram with world class coaches posting content – different physical training videos, which probably you shouldn’t copy directly but gives you an idea on what a top athlete goes through.

Its not just the Tennis players, most athletes tends to go through their set of injuries. Its a sport that is demanding physically.

Its only very few of us who have made it this far. Its unfair to look at the few like a Prajnesh or Pranjala but in the bigger picture, they’ve all done well so far and have made a comeback to make name for themselves or on their way back.

Whenever you had an injury, you’ve made a strong back into the top-100. Going back – You played Tomas Berdych and Andy Murray. You had played really well against Murray especially and you were 4-1 up in the third set. He had said in the press conference that you move the ball really well. What do you learn from these big matches?

I had learnt a lot from the Andy Murray match. The tactics that he had used, I hadn’t seen a whole lot on the tour. I had learnt simple things like where to return from, how he played the important points – that was one match that stands out from me in terms of how much I’ve learned from an opponent. It was kind of him to say nice things of me.

I had my trainer Nasser with me at that time and we had joked as I hadn’t played a top-5 player before and I didn’t know what to expect. We joked that I should not lose 60 60 60. When I had won my first game in each of the sets, we had a look at each of us and gave that smile. At that time, it was like get one game in each set and then see where it goes.

What is the best match that you played and still lost?

There isn’t really a match like that. If I had to really pull out something, it would be my matches like the one against Sam Querrey at the Indian Wells where i felt that I had a good chance. Then the match against Kevin Anderson at the Washington D.C. which was another 3-setter where I felt good about my game. Then the match against Denis Shapovalov in Davis Cup where i came back from 2-sets down, to equalise and then its anyone’s game in the final set.

These were some matches where i was playing well and I had an opportunity to win or close out the match as such.

What is the most important point, that you’ve won?

Going back all the way to my junior career – I think I should have lost the 1st round of the Junior Australian Open – I was match point down in the first round itself. That win changed the whole lot for me. So if I have to put it down to one point, that would be the one.

Has your game style changed from the Junior to the Pro tour?

I think I have adapted a bit. I was a bit of a counter puncher since I didn’t have the strength to hit through the court as much. Gradually I gained that strength and also the realisation that the game style didn’t really suit me. Also, I realised that it wouldn’t get me that far. So I have turned into a more aggressive, all round player.

Over the course of time, I’ve added bits and pieces to my game and adapted my game style accordingly.

Most of your game style would have been perfected by now but do you still say go on to YouTube and try to learn from things over there?

The beauty of the sport is that everyone has a different style. You could look at Del Potro with a really big backswing on the forehand and generating such great speed. On the other hand, Nadal does not have the perfect technique but look at his forehand. Its good to be technically sound but you need not be perfect as everyone is different.

Lot of Indian kids have dreams of going pro. Are there any check points that you need to have at various age buckets to make an assessment and then decide whether to turn pro or not?

The kids are aware. Different players at different stages have different motivation. A player at age 22 or 23 playing in the Futures – it may not always be about winning or playing in a Grand Slam. Its what they enjoy and its their passion to play Tennis. Its up to each individual. Its up to each person – someone could be starting to play Futures at the age of 35.

Sure, its good to have those check points and thats the reason for those tourneys at various age buckets. However if someone wants to follow their dream, who is anyone else to tell them what to do.

Funding is a big issue in Indian Tennis. What is your sponsorship situation right now?

Tennis is unfortunately not a sport where sponsorship kicks in from an Indian player perspective. Everyone looks at a Nadal, Federer or Djokovic performing at the high levels. Its a global sport and very very difficult for an Indian to break through.

For the Indians coming up, its the dream of making the top-100, then going further up into top-70 and so on. Where as for a European, it could be about winning a Grand Slam. An average corporate does not understand the nuances of Tennis as much. So it is very difficult to get the corporates in.

Its better than what it was. There are lot of foundations coming in.

Personally it has been great for me with ONGC. I have been with Babolat for the last 12-13 years for my racquets and clothing deal. I have been greatful to them for these and attached with them.

You were training at the Impact Tennis Academy in 2017 off season. Immediately after, Chung had made it to the semis of the Australian Open. Stephen had mentioned that you were completely crushing it then. Does it give you confidence that a Grand Slam semis is not that far – its a matter of couple of good weeks.

Absolutely, it blew us all away. We we were all congratulating him. It was a very good 2-3 weeks of training for all of us. For me, I always had the belief that I had the game to match up with the best players in the world. For me, it has been about maximising my tennis and playing as many tourneys as I can. For lot of the players in the camp, it gave us sense of confidence.

Any bizarre experience on the tour?

It happens that occasionally I pick up someone else’s bag. It happened to me at the Australian and the French Open. It was even scarier at the Wimbledon as I was walking onto the court for the match. We were warming up in the Gym, ended up picking up another player bag, reached the court and then realised that I had picked up someone else’s bag.

I initially thought of requesting Stephen Koon but realised that he was slow. So I had to run back and try to exchange the bag in time. Thankfully, the girl whose bag I had taken, was walking out to the practice courts and we realised that we had switched bags and so I didn’t have to go too far away.

So even though we tie our tags and everything, it has happened a few times to me, which is very bizarre.

Whats the best technical tip that you’ve received?

Mr Bollettieri telling me to shorten my backswing. I had a really big backswing which he made me aware of, something which i’ve worked on and has definitely made a difference to me.

Who is your best friend on the tour?

I am friendly with most of the Indian players. Someone whom I interact with a bit more are Divij Sharan, Saketh Myneni and Michael Venus.

If you make $10 on the tour – how much of it do you get back after taxes and how much of it goes into the expenses?

It depends on the country you are in. For example, at the US Open, you are paying 35% of the prize money in taxes. The currency also plays a big role.

When it comes to expenses, different coaches have different fees. It also matters on how big is your supporting staff. For example, recent complaint from Djokovic on being allowed only one support staff member for the US Open was an eye opener in terms of what it takes to maintain a top player. For most of the other players, they only have one person traveling along side, its either a coach or a trainer. Its a catch-22 situation as it takes a lot of money but you also need that to reach the top level.

Your take on the US Open?

Majority of the players don’t accept it. The players will play as most of us are idle and thats our livelihood. Unfortunately thats the disadvantage as the tourney organisers know that we will have to show up if its a big tourney.

If they have the capacity to organise a big tourney, they should ideally have the qualifying, the mixed doubles and the Wheelchair tennis too. That bit has been a disappointment.

What can we expect from Yuki in 2021?

Hopefully back playing a good level of Tennis, performing at a good stage and playing in the Grand Slams again.

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