The Grand Slam stage is yet to offer solace to World No. 85 Yuki Bhambri who wilted away yet again. In his maiden Wimbledon appearance, the 25-year-old failed to keep his focus despite having a one set lead to go down 6-2 3-6 3-6 2-6 to the Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano in 2 hours 39 minutes.
In a fifth attempt to break the Grand Slam duck, success eluded the Indian again after his promising start. It looked like a stupendous beginning on Court 8 at SW19 last evening for the Junior Australian Open champ who displayed some gutsy forehand winners, only to get subdued in the escalating errors that rained from his racquet as time ran out.Also Read: French Open - Yuki Bhambri knocked out on debut
Italian World No. 133 Fabbiano wasted no time to claw on the match after dropping the first set to beat Bhambri for the fourth time in a row.
What exactly went wrong?
India’s top-ranked Bhambri is not adept for grass, his favorite surface being the hard turf. But he had a quarter-final finish at the Surbiton Challenger last month as his preparatory heading into the Major and also played in the first round at Hertogenbosch.
The India No 1 also qualified for the Queens Club Championships by taking out Taylor Fritz in straight sets. A fateful knee injury intervened and Yuki was forced to pull out while he was trailing Milos Raonic 1-6 1-3 in the first round at Queens.
Expressing agony and not wanting to push himself further, Bhambri opted to get some rest before setting foot at the All England Club. But the Delhi lad has always struggled at Grand Slams.
Perhaps the enormity of the big stage gets over on him.
Back in 2012 and 2015, Bhambri had failed to qualify for the grass court Major, falling in the opening rounds itself. After waiting with baited breath all these years when he did make it automatically into the main draw at SW19, his hopes were dashed once again.
To be honest, for a player who was having a fairly great season so far, it was more than expected that he would ride the momentum to shake off the opening hurdle at the Major with finesse. But Yuki's own shot making and those numerous errors coupled with 11 double faults was what proved fatal for our ace tennis star.
"Playing at Wimbledon is something that I have always looked forward to so I was a little nervous coming into the match," Indian number one Bhambri told AFP.
"I enjoyed the experience. It's been a lifetime dream to be able to come here.
"I was really excited to play but I am just disappointed I couldn't get the win."
By lifting the Taipei Challenger title in April, Bhambri cracked into the top 100 to reach a career high ranking of 83. As a result, he was spared of qualifiers at Wimbledon and made it directly into the Main draw.
Having soaked in a lot of experience on the sunshine tour, Bhambri won the hearts of millions of Indian tennis fans when he made it to the third round at Indian Wells and also a second round at Miami both of which are prestigious Masters 1000 events on the ATP tour. Bhambri capped some brilliant wins over top players namely Lucas Pouille and Nicholas Mahut enroute to the third round at Indian Wells.
Such was the brilliant run that the Indian was basking in after a pre-quarter final finish at the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune at the start of the year and a runner-up at the Chennai Challenger.
How did the maiden Wimbledon main draw match slip out of Bhambri’s reach?
Early in the match Bhambri looked all composed and focused taking on the ball and hitting brilliant forehand winners. He also attracted boisterous cheers from his Indian fans who were supporting him courtside. The Italian opponent, Fabbiano looked all confused as Bhambri had answers to every shot and steered to grab the opener 6-2 in just 26 minutes. Dishing out some terrific net play and volley winners the Indian assured himself and his fans that he was here to stay.Also Read: Indian tennis in the rising
The second set was when the real test came as Fabbiano was not going to let it slip easily. The 29-year-old who had come to the Main draw through 3 grueling qualifiers was determined to make an impact and not lose on the opportunity. And yes, he delivered by going a step further than his last appearance at SW19 in 2017 when he lost to Sam Querry in the opening round.
Bhambri had chances to break in the second set too but squandered away too many of them with some callous forehand and backhand down the line errors.
A whopping 61 errors as against Fabbiano's mere 20 was something that just stole away the match from Bhambri.
The Indian Davis cupper double faulted 11 times which was signature of a weak service game that Bhambri showed throughout. Despite having 13 chances at his disposal to break his opponent's serve, Bhambri converted only 5. Fabbiano on the other hand registered a 44% of break point conversion and broke Bhambri 8 times in the duration of the match. The Indian struck 4 aces but 11 double faults punished him severely and he ended up on the losing side of the net.
This third straight loss at a Major in the opening round in this season will hurt but the Indian believes in taking it as lessons instead of bemoaning the losses.
"I just look at them as defeats not necessarily defeats at the Slams," he was quoted saying in an interview in the Indian Express.
"In Australia the first couple of times, I met great players.
"I feel I am getting better and heading in the right direction but I know I have tons of work to do."
Bhambri had succumbed to Marcos Baghdatis in the opening round in Melbourne at the Australian Open this year and to Ruben Bemelmans at Roland Garros again in the first round. In 2015 which was Bhambri's Australian Open debut, he encountered Former World No 1 Andy Murray who bundled out the Indian in his first round. In 2017 too Tomas Berdych denied Bhambri his second round ticket defeating him in straight sets.
An individual sport like tennis is a treacherous road. It takes a monumental effort for an athlete to wade through injuries and various challenges that come along on this voyage of ATP glory. For Yuki Bhambri who has had an injury ravaged career but who still does not give up, itself shows the fighter that he is.
Bhambri who is working with Stephen Koon in Bangkok is all positive as he looks ahead on the Tour. The need of the hour is to be able to keep his focus and mental strength intact both of which are the most sought after abilities to survive the grueling competition on the ATP tour.