Part two in my epic mini-series, in which I altruistically point your eyeballs towards challenger-level players who are oh-so-well worth watching. If you need to know the methodology behind these selections, or just would like to (re)familiarize yourselves with the tennistical forces of nature that are the first two men in this series (said forces would be Sam Groth and Dustin Brown), here is Part I.
Now then. Every single damn day, it seems, my next subject makes me regret not choosing him as one of my Top Ten Players to Watch for 2014. After all, the dude has a 10/3 record on the year, with wins over Pablo Carreno-Busta and Somdev Devvarman among others. Plus a challenger title in both singles and doubles. So I’m certainly not going to whiff on my opportunity to include him on my Players to View list.
I’m typing, of course, about…
Less than six months ago, this 21-year-old Indian lad had a ranking of #593. But then, after missing all of May and June with injury, he made the finals of the $120,000 Kaohsiung Challenger in heroic fashion, and posted a 30/6 record to finish his 2013 campaign, rising to #195 on the ATP Rankings Manifest.
And now, the Australian Open Boys and Orange Bowl champ of 2009 will be a career high ~#142 when the new rankings come out this Monday.
Blessed with a pure, natural-looking ball-striking ability and penetrating groundies which I’ve often compared to those of Marin Cilic, Bhambri needs only to shore up his serve before he becomes an ATP Tour-Level regular. And to stay healthy, of course.
Until that time, you should catch him as much as you can on the beautiful HD ATP Challenger livestreams. Alas, Bhambri is doing all his current winning on the resurrected Indian swing of the Challenger Tour, for which there’s no HD livestream (or any other sort of livestream, for that matter).
Happily, you can check out his win versus PCB on the YouTube (where you can also enjoy (?) the cheerfully chattering Chennai commies):
Bhambri trains at the Nick Bollettieri IMG Academy. And his two sisters are also tennis pros, by the way. Just in case you needed a Yuki Bhambri sibling trivia fact to carry around in your head with you.
Just the other day, I was talking on the Margin of Error podcast about how practically every week, guys are making a splash at the ATP Tour level, seemingly out of nowhere for those who don’t follow challenger tennis.* Well, Dominic Thiem made that point for me pretty well for this week. (And I swear this guy was on my PtV list even before he took a set off of Andy Murray yesterday — I swear it!)
It’s often amusing for me to watch the world suddenly wake up to the presence of a player when they could have been watching him almost every week (and now, with the HD ATP Livestreams, more than ever). In the Guardian this morning, he’s described as “little known” and in the Daily Record he’s even “unknown”.
Granted, Dominic Thiem has been pretty splashy at the ATP level before, making the quarterfinals of Kitzbuhel and Vienna last year. But yesterday in Rotterdam, when he took that set off Murray, people seemed to really wake up to the D(en)ominator, who earned rave reviews in the press and from Andy himself.
If you too are new to the Thiem, here’s what you’ve missed: just a few months ago, the 20-year-old Austrian took his first chally title at the Kenitra Challenger. Along the way, he beat Austrian arch-rival Gerald Melzer, who had beaten him just weeks before, much to the delight of Gerald’s older bro, Jurgen:
Wherefore the delight? Well, the reason Jurgen was so f-word proud and six-exclamation-points pumped was that Thiem had controversially sat out Austria’s previous Davis Cup tie due to what he felt was lack of proper fiscal renumeration. That pissed the Austrians right off!
In the weeks that followed, amazing stories surfaced about his mightily unusual training methods with legendary Austrian triathlete Sepp Resnik. Like, seriously, you should click on that link if you’re not already familiar with the fantasmagoric facts.
But don’t let all that off-the-court rigamarole bog you down. On the court, he speeds around, smashing both serves and forehands alike with the occasional one-handed backhand blast that’d make Stan the Man himself blush. Off the ground, he features repeated down-the-line patterns that seem low percentage until he makes them a time or ten.
Coached by Gunter Bresnik, who once trained Boris Becker and Patrick McEnroe**, the 2nd-ranked-player under 21 years of age trains with another Bresnik pupil, Ernests Gulbis, in Vienna. He will break into the Top 100 in this Monday’s rankings, and will play at the ATP level for the next month or so.
But he still plans to play the Dallas Challenger in March, so catch him at the challenger level while you still can!
*Or junior tennis, of course. For that, there are no HD livestreams. There is only Zoo Tennis.
**Which I guess means Thiem will be commentating once he retires from tennis, too.