US Open 2018: Yuki Bhambri's first-round exit ends his Slam season, but promises abound of better tidings

Yuki Bhambri’s season of hope ended with another bittersweet performance at the US Open. While the 26-year-old can take pride in making the main draw of all the four Grand Slams this year, he couldn’t find a way past the first round in either of those.

On Tuesday, the Indian went down 3-6, 6-7 (3), 5-7 to France’s Pierre-Hugues Herbert in the opening round at Flushing Meadows. A little slow to start with, the Indian put up a fight in the last two sets, battling for two hours and 29 minutes before his Grand Slam season came to a close.

“This is where I want to be, where everybody wants to be,” Bhambri had told The Indian Express going into the Grand Slam. “All the work put in the last few months and a bit from last year has helped to get the ranking and now be able to be here and play another Slam.”

File image of India's Yuki Bhambri. AP

File image of India's Yuki Bhambri. AP

Just how rare it has been for an Indian to feature in a Grand Slam singles draw can be gleaned from the fact that the last player from the country to feature in all four majors in the same year was Somdev Devvarman in 2011. Before the start of the season, Bhambri had played in a major only twice before, both at the Australian Open.

He came up short on his debuts at the French Open (lost 4-6, 4-6, 1-6 to Ruben Bemelmans) and Wimbledon (lost 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 2-6 to Thomas Fabbiano) — on surfaces still alien to the hard-court bred player.

The US Open was a more familiar territory. Bhambri has played and trained a lot during his junior years in the US and was familiar with the conditions. Some of his biggest wins have come against players from France — beat Gael Monfils in Washington last year, beat Nicolas Mahut and World No 12 Lucas Pouille at Indian Wells this year.

But his French affair seemingly fizzled out in New York. Herbert was possibly the toughest of the four first-round opponents he has faced this year. Ranked 75 in the world, the Frenchman has already proved his mettle in the doubles but has recently started making forays into the individual game. He had beaten Bhambri in three sets at the only ATP event in India — the Maharashtra Open in Pune — at the start of the year.

A classical player who launches serves with an exaggerated backswing, Herbert knows his way around the singles court as well. He served 13 aces to Bhambri’s none, and hit 13 winners to Bhambri’s none to edge past the Indian.

On the face of it, Bhambri didn’t do a whole lot wrong. He got a steady 67% of the first serves in, and had only six unforced errors, as much as Herbert. Even though the Delhi lad understands the art of building a rally better than most of his Indian peers, he just couldn’t find the finishing shot against the Frenchman.

Ironically though, Bhambri is from the modern breed of baseliners, the one area he has most improved on is his attacking game this year. He hasn’t been afraid to step into the court or line up winners.

“Being at this level and sometimes just watching the top players play and learn from them has been beneficial,” he had said about his most successful season so far. “Now I’m a bit more aggressive, which is something I needed to do. More importantly I’ve had the self-belief to play anyone and beat anyone.”

After winning the $150,000 Challenger event in Chinese Taipei and reaching a career high of 83 in April, Bhambri lost steam mid-way. The ghosts of injury were back to haunt him this summer as he suffered from tendonitis in both knees just ahead of the French Open. Bhambri has played through that, determined to use this opportunity of making the last three Slams of the year on merit (he entered the Australian Open through qualifying).

Bhambri will undoubtedly be disappointed at not breaking the first round jinx. But he is not panicking yet; his Grand Slam journey is only six matches old. He knows, better than anyone else, that his time will come. After multiple injury-ridden seasons, Bhambri’s primary aim since last year had been to remain fit and give himself the best chance of participating at the bigger events. That checkbox ticked, the Indian should now be plotting for the next big step.

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Updated Date: Aug 29, 2018 12:32:55 IST

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