First the conquest, then the stumble, and then the sucker punch of the day. Yuki Bhambri pulled off an unexpected victory with unexpected ease in the opening match of this year's Chennai Open. Vishnu Vardhan came tantalising close, five match points to be precise, to spoiling world No 36 Ivan Dodig's birthday.
The 19-year-old Yuki stepped in with confidence, let his forehand rip and after a minor bout of nerves and fatigue polished off Slovakia’s Karol Beck 6-2, 6-3 in an hour and 20 minutes.
Though the Indian was smart in building up the points and bold in finishing them off, he was aided by the fact that his opponent, who has recorded a career high of 36, turned up for the contest only in the last three games. Having failed to serve out the first set at 5-1, Yuki stumbled again while serving out the match from the same position in the second set.
With Beck putting in a few more balls and some spite into his shots, a winded Yuki looked unsure for the first time. He worked his way through patiently, giving up the drive forehands for a safer slice, and had enough momentum to carry him past the finish line.
The wave of doubt that Yuki had overcome, seemed to have consumed Vardhan. To be fair, the 24-year-old had a tougher opponent in Dodig, whose claim to fame was beating Rafael Nadal at the Tokyo ATP event last year. But Vardhan, armed with a strong serve, looked set to cause the second upset win in a row for India when he earned himself a match point on Dodig’s serve at 5-4 in the second set.
Almost the entire Indian contingent sat on the sidelines, pumping their guy up. The importance of the moment wasn’t lost — for the first time in the tournament’s history two Indian wildcards could have gone through.
But the occasion got the better of Vardhan as he squandered that match point, and four more in the tie-break. A bout of cramps in his left leg killed off whatever life remained in Vardhan's challenge as he went down 6-4, 6-7 (8), 1-6.
Yuki, in his moment of triumph, sounded a note of caution.
“Financial support is what we are lacking. You see a lot of these top players travelling with coaches across the world and that is important,” said the Club Mahindra-sponsored player.
Results: Yuki Bhambri (Ind) b Karol Beck (Slo) 6-2, 6-3; Dudi Sela (Isr) b Fabio Fognini (Ita)6-0, 6-1; Benoit Paire (Fra) b Pere Riba (Esp) 6-2, 6-1; Ivan Dodig (Cro) b Vishnu Vardhan (Ind) 4-6, 7-6 (8), 6-1.