Without any emotive rhetoric or balderdash, Yuki Bhambri says that he has quit the singles format.
The 28-year-old, once considered a top-50 prospect, is the first big Indian player after Sania Mirza to quit the singles format to prolong his tennis career.
Tired of a stop-start singles career due to knee injuries, Yuki had made up his mind sometime back that doubles is the way forward for him.
He did not make any excuse that the system did not help him enough, nor did he have any regrets that he could not achieve the heights he was expected to.
Walking out of the outside courts at the Balewadi Stadium, his gait was assuring as he uttered, “no more singles for me".
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“I did the best I knew in my singles career and I am at peace with it. Maybe things were wrong, maybe it was bad luck, I don’t know. No regrets, there is nothing more I could have done," Yuki, who touched a career-high singles rank of 83 in 2018, told PTI in an interaction.
For someone who have won the junior Australian Open in 2009, became junior world number one and have the prestigious Orange Bowl trophy in his cabinet, his career always generated huge amount of interest and expectations.
“It was more because of injuries and not for lack of sponsors. Sponsors were not there and I was fortunate to have done well throughout my career and could continue on the Tour but, of course, injuries were a big factor." Just last weekend he was competing in the singles qualifiers at the Tata Open Maharashtra, so was it a sudden decision to quit the format? Yuki said the idea to play the singles qualifying event was to earn some prize money by entering the main draw because the doubles does not offer much. But the decision to quit singles was taken long back.
“I (had) decided in 2019 that doubles is the way forward for me and I wanted to do it while I was still able to play a bit of singles, which I did last year. I was injured.
“I came back in 2021 and the first 2-3 tournaments I played using Protected Ranking. Then I went to America and got COVID and I got hurt again, so the plan was always there but it got delayed," he explained.
At the peak of his career when he broke into the top 100 in 2018, Bhambri was eyeing a place in the top 50 in the next season, but injuries to both his knees took away the crucial three and a half years.
Then started the draining search for a reliable cure. After consulting several doctors, he finally got the treatment he required, in the US, and was back on the courts in March 2021.
The move to quit singles was well-planned.
“The goal at the end of the day is to become a singles Grand Slam champion. No one picks a tennis racquet to be a doubles Grand Slam champion. I did singles as long I could but it was a lot of start-stop, start-stop for me and I did not want to be at a later stage of my career where it’s too late to play even doubles and start from scratch.
“Sitting out with an injury at 33 or 35 years, I would not have been able to come back if I had to play Futures because you want to play at the top level," said Yuki, who won seven singles Challenger titles.
Yuki teamed up with fellow Indian Saketh Myneni, who serves big.
In 2021, they won five Challenger titles together and made one semifinal on the ATP Tour after starting the year by winning a few titles on the smaller ITF circuit.
It gave them the chance to be ready for bigger challenges — the ATP 500, the Masters and the Grand Slams. He is already inside the top 100 and is targeting to be in the top 50 bracket soon.
Does the doubles success give satisfaction, or a part of the mind still craves for that elusive singles title? “When you have made up your mind, the satisfaction is there. There is always going to be something better. If I was 50 in the world, I would have said, ‘wish I was 20 in the world’. Federer is perhaps not satisfied with his 20 Grand Slams, probably he would have wanted to win 50." There was a time when he was not getting better and did not know how he would make a comeback with so much pain in his knees.
“That was a time when I thought about what I could do, if not tennis. I had accepted a long time ago that sponsors will not come, tennis is an individual game and you have to do it on your own." He also made no bones about the lack of financial support. There was a time when he did not even have a proper shoe sponsor and was left with just one pair of shoes.
“I don’t have any hope from the system, it’s never been there, it is stupid to think about it, if it comes, ‘thank you’, grateful. I know it’s not going to be there, I knew what I was getting into, it’s a tough sport and if you have results, everything takes care of it." The switch has been made but the adjustment in the style of play is an ongoing process for Yuki. Sometimes he forgets that he is allowed to hit in the alleys.
“It does not come as naturally as playing singles because you have done that all your life. I keep reminding myself ‘you have to hit it in the alley’, it’s not the singles court." And the training style, too, has changed.
“I practice more volleys now. In singles, you will work from the baseline for two hours and now you work more on your volleys. All the time you are at the net and you have to be ready." So what is it that Yuki likes about the doubles? “It’s very fast-paced. Within a span of two minutes, the whole match can change. You’ve got to be a better player in crunch moments. The workload is different, it’s not physically as taxing as playing the singles.
“It’s explosive with serve and volleying, running back and forth but not as much running side to side that happens in singles. I don’t have to run much (laughs), I know that the match is going to finish in one and a half hours maximum," he signed off.
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