From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.47 :: Nov. 21, 2009


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On the same court with legends

Spending some time with Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras was the ideal tonic for the young lad, Yuki Bhambri, in a season of hope. It will be time to fulfil a part of the promise next season. Yuki is keen to have the best preparation, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

A masterclass from Pete Sampras and one from Andre Agassi (below), too. What more can Yuki Bhambri ask for?

He has had a memorable year, winning the Australian Open junior title, becoming world No.1 junior, winning five ITF men’s Futures singles titles and making a dream debut in the Davis Cup World Group play-off against South Africa.

The 17-year-old Yuki Bhambri has been busy on the tennis courts around the world, from Melbourne to Johannesburg, but he will remember Macau, as it gave him an opportunity to train and play with Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, two legends who have won 22 Grand Slam singles titles between them.

Thanks to the support from IMG, Yuki was selected along with another talented junior, Ryan Harrison of the US, for the exhibition event in Macau.

Having hit with Rafael Nadal during the US Open, Yuki did know first hand what it takes to be on the same court as the best players in the world, but it was a new experience for him with the stars of the past.

“It was awesome to watch the legends play between themselves and then practise with them for an hour each. Both seemed to play with the same aggression and competitive flair as in the past. Agassi made me move a lot, and I couldn’t reach many of his shots. Sampras was serving with amazing accuracy. I had difficulty returning his serves, though I won most of the points on my serve,” gushed Yuki, as he recalled the experience.

Despite being an eager young man, Yuki was happy to listen to what the legends had to say rather than probe them with enthusiastic questions.

“They enquired about where I trained and how I felt being at the Bollettieri centre. I was happy that they enjoyed playing with me. They were also gracious to say that they would love to hit with me if ever I happened to be in their home town,” recalled Yuki.

Never mind that he did not have anything to ask the stars, but Yuki assimilated the intensity of their approach, though they were not playing professional tennis any more.

“Seeing them, I realised that it takes a lot of fitness and dedication to remain in the form that they are in even today. They do hit the gym and are very particular about their fitness.

“I also got to know that Sampras had started giving more importance to fitness at the age of 18, on being inspired by Ivan Lendl with whom he had stayed and trained for a week,” Yuki said.

Yuki partnered Sampras against Agassi and Harrison in the exhibition match. He was understandably charged up to give his best.

“I think my game did go up. I loved volleying against Agassi. During the doubles, he did tease me a couple of times, about being nervous. The crowd responded in a big way, and it just inspired me to hit some great shots,” observed Yuki.

With a back sprain keeping him away from the courts thereafter, it was indeed a nice way to end the season for Yuki, with a memorable stint with two of the greatest players of all time.

He could have easily finished as the World junior champion for 2009, but Yuki had focussed on the men’s circuit rather than chase records in the junior events after capturing the Australian Open title. There was nothing much to prove for him in the junior circuit, and he had opted to move forward rather than waste precious time.

“There are only a certain number of tournaments that one can play in a year. My parents have always tried to maintain a good balance between training stints, travel and tournaments. I couldn’t compete in the French Open because of injury and I also missed Wimbledon. I was unlucky to lose in the quarterfinals of the US Open, when the event was suddenly shifted indoors following rain.

“I have had my share of injuries. Since I did well in the men’s circuit, we thought that it was enough to play the Grand Slams alone in the juniors circuit,” said Yuki, as he assessed his approach.

“I don’t know if it was the right or the wrong decision, but the ultimate goal is to do well in the men’s circuit. That is where you can derive all the glory and satisfaction,” Yuki said.

For the record, Yuki slipped to No. 2 in the junior rankings after being No. 1 for most of the season.

“I want to get fit first. There are a lot of muscles that need to be developed further for me to be able to perform at the higher stage. I hope to be fully prepared for the Chennai Open and the qualifying event of the Australian Open. My only goal now is to get stronger,” said Yuki, as he signed off.

With a mature head on his young shoulders, Yuki has indeed been marching forward in the men’s circuit with diligence. If his performance in the Davis Cup match against South Africa is any indication, though it was a dead rubber, Yuki would definitely be ready to step it up next season.

Spending some time with Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras was the ideal tonic for the young lad, in a season of hope. It will be time to fulfil a part of the promise next season. Yuki is keen to have the best preparation.

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