This is what I have been doing since the age of five and I guess I am getting there. But its just the beginning of a very long road, says Yuki Bhambri, the latest poster child of Indian tennis. Last month Bhambri became the first Indian to sweep the Australian Open Junior Singles title defeating Alexandros-Ferdinandos Georgoudas of Germany.
He started calling the shots last year on the gruelling international tennis circuit when he bagged the silver medal at the Commonwealth Youth Games and the Boys 18 singles title at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
Tennis at this level is cut-throat competitive. Only the best get to play and its much tougher than one can imagine, says the 16-year-old champ as he takes a breather from signing autographs on anything from tennis balls to sport bandanas for a frenzied bunch of aspiring young players at Delhis Siri Fort Sports Complex. Hes excited about all the adulation thats suddenly being showered on him though. Its all still just sinking in, he says.
Bhambri is the most exciting tennis prospect India has at the moment. His future is looking very promising. He also has two more years on the junior circuit, which is a significant amount of time to achieve more, says Indranil Das Blah, vice president, sports, Globosport, an ace sports and celebrity management company in India.
Bhambri holds the trophy after beating Germany’s Alexandros-Ferdinandos Georgoudas in the final of the Boys Singles at the Australian Open this year
Its Advantage Bhambri all the way, and hes already signed endorsement deals with Adidas and the racquet equipment company, Babolat. And the pro is in no mood to take time off after his Grand Slam victory. In fact, hell be smacking the ball right back during the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami thats scheduled to start on March 25.
Tennis virtuoso Rafael Nadal played the championship last year, so playing the same tournament is definitely a high, says Bhambri, who is also the worlds second-ranked junior in the International Tennis Federation (ITF) rankings.
Bhambri is also gearing up to play the ITF Challenger Series and Futures matches in India later this year. Hence, the 16-year-old champ will spend the better part of the year on the tennis circuit.
Yuki has a fantastic understanding of the game, and a keen ability to implement his coachs instructions on the court, says Aditya Sachdev, Bhambris coach who has given his wards career a decided fillip.
Bhambri has an extensive training programme in place as he shuttles between the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida and the Mahesh Bhupathi Team Tennis Academy at Delhis Siri Fort Sports Complex. In a game dominated by supreme athleticism and power, a strict fitness regimen combined with the right coaching is the key to success. My day begins at 7.30 am and after that Im parked at the sports complex for five hours straight, says Bhambri.
A taxing three-hour tennis coaching routine is followed by a two-hour fitness regimen that also includes yoga. He is back at the court in the afternoon for match practice. In between these workout sessions, I also squeeze in time for a bit of occasional golf, says Bhambri.
A cocktail of hard work and discipline is keeping him ahead of the pack on the court, but Bhambri has no intention to give up on academics. Dont for a moment think that I ignore my studies. My mother ensures that I study for an hour everyday, he says.
And yes, the felicitation at his alma mater, DPS Mathura Road, post his Australian Open win, turned out to be one of the most memorable occasions with his teachers and fellow students milling around him.
The last time Bhambri went to school was last year to appear for a Class 10 term exam and this time he returned to some resounding applause.
The junior Grand Slam winner poses with young fans at the Siri Fort Sports Complex in Delhi
Pix by Jagan Negi
Returning to school to attend classes regularly and to appear for the upcoming Board exams is an uncertainty at the moment. For, Bhambri will be out of the country for a greater part of the year, playing on the international circuit.
Needless to say, Bhambris family has been his pillar of strength with his mother travelling with him on the circuit. And it helps that both his sisters, Ankita and Sanaa, are national level tennis players. I can always brainstorm with my sisters and get a feedback on my game. And importantly, I learn from their mistakes, he adds.
But ironically Bhambris parents dont hail from a sports background. Pucca Delhiwalas and residents of south Delhis Gulmohar Park, the family has however been avidly interested in sports. Bhambris father, Dr Chander Bhambri, encouraged his children to take up tennis at an early age.
But make no mistake. Bhambri is a regular teenager who catches up with the latest movies with his sisters and friends (the Khans of Bollywood are his favourite stars) and loves to dig into tandoori food. I also love the Harry Potter series, he claims.
Bhambri is quite the regular adolescent, who is both at ease on and off the court. Yet he has a Grand Slam title under his belt and a drive to succeed.
Winning the Orange Bowl last year was a turning point for Yuki, says Gaurav Natekar, CEO, Mahesh Bhupathi Team Tennis Academy which has been the training ground for Bhambri. He has to bring more power to his shots by building muscles," he adds.
The ambitious teenager who wields a mean racquet is equally confident. Theres no reason why I shouldnt make it to the next level. Promising examples like Rohan Bopanna and Somdev Dev Varman abound, states a resolute Bhambri.
Indian tennis is banking on Bhambri in a big way. Probably because he is the only 16-year-old who can say: I saw my sisters bringing in the medals. I knew it was just a matter of time before I did the same. Until then, its Game, Set and Match Bhambri.