It was on a whim that Yuki Bhambri decided to approach Lloyd Harris last week. Given that most elite players were trying to cram in as much match play on grass as possible before Wimbledon, the doubles rankings cut-off at the Mallorca Championships was very high. Bhambri couldn’t get in with his regular partner, fellow Indian Saketh Myneni, and was thinking of taking a break for that week. But after seeing Harris’ name on the entry list, he decided to check if the South African was open to playing doubles.
As luck would have it, not only did Harris agree but it turned out to be the most successful week of the Indian’s pro career. Bhambri-Harris defeated Robin Haase and Philipp Oswald 6-3, 6-4 in the final of the ATP 250 event on Sunday. It was the first tour title for the Indian and propelled Bhambri to a career high of 58 in the doubles rankings.
“It was a great experience,” Bhambri, 31, tells Lounge. “Really enjoyed playing on grass. It’s such a short season, so I try and maximise as much as I can. Also, a very relaxing win, it's been fun to play with Lloyd, a very last-minute pairing.”
Mallorca has also been a happy hunting ground for the Indian. Last August, Bhambri and Myneni had won the Challenger event in the largest of the Balearic Islands. Despite teaming up for the first time, Bhambri-Harris took on, and defeated more experienced pairs. This included wins over fourth seeds Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos in the quarter-finals and top seeds Santiago Gonzalez and Edouard Roger-Vasselin in the semis.
“We played some really good teams and won pretty comfortably, without dropping a set this week. That was very satisfying.,” says Bhambri. “Winning the title is reassuring. I’ve been practically a doubles specialist for a year and a half. You do need these victories now and then to assure yourself that all the work you are putting in is taking you on the right path.”
Once upon a time, Bhambri was the wunderkind of Indian tennis. As a skinny 16-year-old, he won the boys’ championship at the 2009 Australian Open and was tipped for great things. The Indian did break into the top-100 in the ATP rankings twice in his career but his career has been hampered by injuries. Over the years, he has been sidelined due to injuries to his elbow, to his knees, ankles. Most would have packed off and settled for a more secure job, but Bhambri kept plotting comebacks. When, after a knee surgery in 2021, a singles career looked unsustainable, he switched his focus to doubles.
He was quick to get the results too. Last season, in the company of Myneni, he won five ATP Challenger events and broke into the top-100. In 2023, he has won two more Challenger events with Myneni, notched a doubles win at the French Open and now won his first tour title. “It helps having a doubles partner,” said Bhambri, who believes the tour doesn’t feel as lonely anymore. “Sharing ideas, travelling together, of course you have to get along as well, so that’s a big bonus to be able to travel and play with Saketh and compete with him on the tour. I have always enjoyed playing doubles, I have had a little bit of success as well before when I was mainly playing singles.”
However, the Indian is still getting used to the cadence of points on the doubles court. “It’s very different from playing in singles,” he said. “It’s a little bit alien to me as well the feeling of serve and volleying all the time, playing short points all the time. I am enjoying the process.”
The training has also changed significantly. While he would work a lot more on endurance, running side to side and sharpening the groundstrokes, Bhambri is now more focused on improving the serves, returns and his net game. “I am still developing, still understanding doubles,” he added.
He may be honing a new skill-set, but Bhambri already has excellent instincts. As a singles player, his ability to absorb and redirect pace, and construct a point were his biggest strengths. A newfound tactical edge and tenacity may yet take him to greater heights in doubles.
Deepti Patwardhan is a Mumbai-based sportswriter.