New Delhi, Jan 29: Yuki Bhambri did not need to change his style of play or contain the aggression to protect his knees after making a comeback from an injury but the top Indian singles player says he would now play the "less taxing" doubles format "more actively" to prolong his tennis career.
At the peak of his career when he broke into the top-100 in 2018, Bhambri was eyeing a place in top-50 in the next season but injuries to both his knees took away his crucial three and a half years. Then started a draining search for a reliable cure.
Having consulted doctor after doctor, he finally got the treatment he needed, in the US, and was back on the courts in March 2021. However, the comeback lasted just six tournaments as the knee began troubling him. He had to stop again. Yet, he did not give up and got ready for 2022.
He looked sharp, without any discernable discomfort in the Australian Open Qualifiers. His serve too was decent, if not great. "I am playing exactly the same way. I always play aggressive. That's the way I play, taking my opportunities," Bhambri told PTI in interview as he geared up for Tata Open Maharashtra.
"I can not make point any shorter, apart for serve and volley but that is difficult in today's age."
When pointed out that he did use the net quite often in Melbourne, Bhambri explained that it was because of the way the "surface was playing" and not because he was trying to protect his knees.
"The courts were faster in Australia, so it naturally came into play. The serve was faster, so you could put more pressure on the opponent. It was not deliberate to protect the knee. Maybe, in hindsight, having played a few doubles matches got me into that rhythm, it is a bit of everything but no change in game style."
So, he did not keep the points short deliberately but considering the unpredictability around his injuries and the fact that he is almost touching 30, Bhambri will definitely prefer that his knees hold as much as possible. The best way to not put pressure on the game and the body, is to play doubles. When it was expected that the highly-motivated Bhambri would say no to playing doubles, he surprised with his answer.
"Both options are there. You can never count out after seeing all the success we had had. That option is always going to be there. At the moment I am going to try and play as much as I can. I also want to get my doubles ranking up, more actively playing doubles event. It is physically not taxing," he said indicating that his presence in doubles would be consistent.
He has already won two doubles titles, albeit on lower tier ITF events, with Saketh Myneni, and also played in Melbourne with old New Zealand partner Michael Venus. They say more than the victory and success, it is the defeat and difficult times that help a human being learn new lessons. So what did Bhambri learn?
"I have become a very good rehab specialist. My coaches and trainer joke that I am the real life version of Munna Bhai MBBS," he joked. "Without a medical degree, I am pretty sure I am a top notch rehab specialist when it comes to knee injuries or ankle injuries or elbow injuries.
"I have already told the younger players if they need any sort of help, I would be the guy to go to because I know what works and what not."
While Bhambri is sure about his game and his decision to play more doubles, but the reason behind his injuries remains a mystery for himself. "There is no given reason. One doctor would say you have over-trained, another would say you are under-trained. It's not an accident that you have fallen down (and got the injury). I have been just unlucky. I did right things after getting injured. There is no text book to it."
There were thoughts of giving up the game but his family and friends kept him motivated. "I ended up doing a lot of fitness courses."
"I would have been as disappointed if I were 500 or top-100 (when I got injured). It hurt a bit more but I created all those opportunity to play higher up -- the Grand Slams and the Masters.
"You work your way up and when you are able to taste the success and you have to start all over again, it is difficult, there is no question. But reaching that point also gave me the motivation to try and come back again and do it. Bhambri assured that his knee looks perfect, and he is playing without pain but he will get sharper as he plays more.
"I did feel good getting into the tournament. I feel the more I play, sharper as I can be. The key for me here is to keep playing. It is difficult when you come after a break, after a long time, no matter how much practice you do, or how many practice sets you play, it's not the same feeling when the scores are all or when you are under pressure in the match. It wasn't bad, it was not great either, I know I can get better."
Now ranked 1000, Bhambri won't be playing at the higher level. But he will certainly enter a few big events using his protected ranking of 129. "I always try to revise my targets, it depends on how I am doing at the tournaments, what my ranking is. I am 1000 now, my next goal is to accumulate points, get to 400-500 and get into Challengers.
"Tennis is still the same, it's great to have in your mind (top-100, 50) as a goal but you still try to win every match."