Pune: A fluent Yuki Bhambri played with a lot of authority to reach the singles semifinals of the KPIT-MSLTA Challenger even as N Vijay Sundar Prashanth exited but not before making an impression, here yesterday.
Top seed Yuki tamed Taipei's Ti Chen 6-4 7-6(4) and has now reached at least the semifinals each in his last five Challengers. Prashanth put up a valiant fight against second seed Russian Evgeny Donskoy before losing a tight singles quarterfinal 6-7(8) 6-7 (5) after sweating it out for two hours at the Centre Court of Balewadi Sports Complex. Prashanth, who won three ITF Futures this season, proved that his victory over Somdev Devvarman was not a fluke.
Yuki, who is in red-hot form, was supremely confident in his approach as he came forward to the net a lot more to set up easy winners and the strategy paid off. The 23-year-old Delhi boy hit some amazing winners from difficult positions and one such shot in the eighth game of the first set was even applauded by Chen. After trading a break each early in the match, Yuki broke Chen in the ninth and served out the set in the next.
He was comfortably placed to close the match after breaking the Taipei player in the seventh but dropped serve in the 10th. He had three break points in the next game but Chen saved and that was his only disappointment in the match. In the tie breaker, Yuki upped the ante and hit four winners in a row to race to a winning position.
However, Yuki was not happy with the way he played.
"I was nowhere close to my top game. It's surprising that I am here (semis) the way I have played this tournament. It was not the cleanest of the match," he said adding that he took chances by approaching the net more and will pursue the same tactics against Ward. "I can play much better," he said.
Yuki is now the only Indian left in the singles event of the USD 50,000 event and will challenge fourth seed Briton James Ward for a place in the final. Chennai-lad Prashanth made his Russian rival, ranked 272 places above him, work hard for points in his first ever Challenger level last-eight match.
He did battle initial nerves but then took off and presented a strong against second seed Donskoy, who came into the tournament after beating top-100 players, including world number 39 Borna Corcis, at the Kremlin Cup which is a ATP 250 event.
Prashanth was impressive with his returns and swift movement on the court. He showed good tennis mind but lacked in execution as he set up many points but could not finish. They were not many but those little points made a huge difference in the outcome of the match.
He backed his serve with decent ground-strokes and little more power in his shots would have added more sting to his challenge. The 29-year-old, who trains with Mahendra Verman in Chennai, said three points made all the difference.
"In the first set tie break, I was serving at 5-5, I could not go up and at 7-7 too. In the second set also at 5-5 I could not go up and that made a difference. I will not say that I would have won the match but had I gone up, it would have given me a better chance," Prashanth said after the match.
He said he had plans in place before every match and he followed those but lamented that his coach, who is also his close friend, cannot travel with him due to paucity of funds. Prashant said holding serve against a top-100 player was key and he would take a lot of positives from the tournament.
He was pleased with the fact that "he started off the season by beating Yuki Bhambri and ended by beating Somdev" and added that he has learnt to control his emotions while playing.
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