You Can Call Me Crazy, But I'll Take Yuki Bhambri

Sergey ZikovSenior Analyst IMarch 31, 2009

Let's go back in time a couple years. Say, to 2005. Roger Federer had just mowed American Andy Roddick off the All-England Club lawn in straight sets for his third Wimbledon title in as many years.

He was unstoppable. Dropping only one set all tournament, he plowed through a professional field which included the likes of Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt, Fernando Gonzalez, and Juan Carlos Ferrero

The world was in awe at what they were watching. Was this the man who could break the curse and win the first Grand Slam since the Hall-of-Fame All-Universe Aussie Rod Laver accomplished the feat in 1968?

The way he swatted opponents from the court like houseflies had not been seen in years.

Was ANYBODY going to come near this man? Would he EVER fall from his seemingly untouchable World No. 1 spot?

So a kind fellow comes up to me and says, "Son, there's going to be a player who comes along in a few years that will give that man the shivers."

I won't buy that for a second. Federer is the best there's ever been. This guy must be crazy.

Who could possibly challenge Roger?

"Don't quote me on this...but I think it's Rafael Nadal. He's a great looking 19-year-old who can really play."


I say he's off his rocker.

So let's fast forward again, back to the present. Turns out my old coach was right on the money. Rafael Nadal did indeed supplant the unstoppable Roger Federer for that No. 1 spot. What a shame! 

Not so much. What would be a shame is if somebody dropped nano-robots in Rafa's Vitamin water, got lodged in his colon, and gave him 30 years of diarrhea. However, a changing of the guard is imminent. Roger was MEANT to fall from his spot because Rafael was MEANT to take it. 

Let me explain. 

While Mr. Federer, the Lord of the Court, was blowing everyone away, Mr. Nadal took notice. He began training vigorously in order to beat Roger, because he knew if he wanted a Slam title, he would have to beat Federer to get it. 

Thus spawned the Gladiator, the incredible physical specimen who looked like he should be playing in the National Football League instead of on a tennis court.

About now, you're probably thinking, "Not another Federer/Nadal article!"

Don't worry, it isn't. Now let me get to my point.

Yuki Bhambri of India will supplant Nadal for the top spot in men's tennis in the future. Now comes the good part. Call me crazy, please.

Rafa is going to be one of the greatest to ever play the game! He's going to win a Grand Slam!

And maybe he will. But whatever "it" is, this kid has it.

But who the HECK is he? 

Yuki is a 16-year-old Indian, who was born in New Delhi. Standing at a lanky 6'0" and growing, Bhambri is currently ranked as the No. 1 player in the ITF. He has been on the radar since he was about 12, but that probably has something to do with his family. Several of his sisters also play on the tour. 

After an average (by his standards) campaign in 2008, Bhambri has been absolutely on fire in 2009. And not like a fire in your fireplace, one of those desert wildfires.

He started out by winning the Junior Australian Open title. When I say he won it, that would be a gross understatement. He WON it. Dropping only one set en route to a title, it took him 57 minutes to annihilate unseeded German Alexandros-Ferdinandos Georgoudas 6-3, 6-1 in the Championship.

He is new to show business, give him a break. That isn't even enough time for the guests of honor in the luxury box to enjoy their pistachios.

Here is a snip to give you an idea what this kid is all about.

Question: "What was you plan before you went into the match [with Georgoudas]?"

Bhambri: "Well, actually, I hadn't seen or heard of him before. I just wanted to focus on my game. I knew it was a big match, big stage, so whoever probably put more balls in the court would win the match. That was my aim, and to try to cut down unforced errors."

Well then. He doesn't even care who he plays. Just put him on the court and go from there. He won 83 percent of the points off his first serve in the match and also converted a vast majority of his break point chances.

Novak Djokovic had to pull out of the same tournament due to heat. Think Bhambri has the same problem? He was born in a town where 120 degree heat is common. Watch out. 

There isn't much that slows Yuki down.

After his Australian victory, Yuki promised that he would be playing more and more ATP events from there on, except the Slams, where he would most likely stick to the Juniors for now.

He had his ATP Tour debut on March 25, 2009 at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, where he was a Wild Card entry. His first match was against World No. 73 Diego Junqueira of Argentina, who most of you have probably never heard of. Or will ever hear of again. 

The 28-year-old left-hander who had won one match in 2009 would face Bhambri for the right to play crowd favorite Andy Roddick in the second round. 

Junqueira won in a fairly routine two sets on paper, 6-4, 6-3. But for a kid who is 12 years his minor, a loss like that is not so bad. The match itself was no blowout, as there was never a point where Bhambri appeared out of the match.

At first glance, his strokes are unorthodox at best. He adds extra motion to his serve, and his forehand oozes with topspin. He wouldn't beat Usain Bolt in a track meet, but he has excellent court speed and recovery.

I don't want to slap the "Gael Monfils" title on him, but at age 16, he already has a more complete game in the workings than Monfils does right now. He plays defense first, mixed with opportunistic offense.

I haven't seen a player who can go from a couple yards deep behind the baseline to an attacking position at the net like Bhambri can in a long while.

Check it out. Here is a short clip of Bhambri at the 2008 Orange Bowl championship in Miami. 

Give him some time to develop. The kid can do magic tricks with a tennis racquet, just don't ask him to make rabbits appear on the court.

"I've got courts right next to my house. I mean, you've got about ten courts there. That's how I started at a young age. Everyone in India plays sport, so that's how I really got into tennis." -Yuki Bhambri.

You can call me crazy, but I'll take the man who eats at a tennis court, sleeps with a racquet under his pillow, and devotes every waking moment of his life to playing the best he possibly can.

You can call me crazy, but I'll take Yuki Bhambri any day.     


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