Yuki Bhambri struggled to rein in his unforced errors and played well only in patches as his third Australian Open appearance ended with a straight-set first-round defeat at the hands of a seasoned Marcos Baghdatis, in Melbourne on Monday.
The 25-year-old Indian qualifier, ranked 122, had his chances against world number 103 Cypriot, but unforced errors cost him the match 6-7(4) 4-6 3-6 after two hours and nine minutes on court number eight.
Bhambri is yet to win a round in the main draw of a Grand Slam and the Australian Open is the only Major he has played.
In 2015, when he came through the qualifiers, Bhambri lost to Andy Murray. In 2016, when he made the cut after breaking into the top-100, he drew Tomas Berdych and again failed to go beyond the first round.
It was a good chance for Bhambri to improve his record but a staggering 33 unforced errors to just three of Baghdatis meant that his good work of the past few weeks could not yield him a good result at the big stage.
Bhambri took a break, seconds before the start of the match, much to the amusement of Baghdatis and broke the Cypriot in the very first game, securing the best possible start.
However, the Indian dropped serve in the fourth game with the two players struggling to adapt to the windy conditions.
Bhambri rushed on to the net quite often even as Baghdatis preferred to strike from the baseline. The strategy worked for Bhambri, who yet again broke his rival in the fifth game, only to lose his serve in the very next game.
The Cypriot, a finalist here back in 2006, remained a crowd favourite and the chants of ‘Go-Go Baghdatis’ kept reverberating through the court.
However, it was Bhambri who again took the lead by breaking Baghdatis in the ninth game. Bhambri hit a stunning forehand winner to earn three breakpoints and converted the second when Baghdatis hit a backhand wide.
However, he yet again failed to capitalise and dropped serve while serving for the set. In the tie-break too, Bhambri raced to a 3-1 lead but unforced errors cost him dearly and he went on to lose the opening set.
Both the players managed to contain their errors a bit in the second set and there was just one break of serve in the entire second set.
It was the Cypriot, who got the break at 4-4 and served out the set in the next comfortably, taking a commanding 2-0 lead.
To Bhambri’s credit, his percentage tennis improved but not cashing in on one break point he got early, pegged him back.
It was a massive task for Bhambri to erase a two-set deficit. He saved a break chance in the fifth to continue to remain in the lead. However, Baghdatis did not let the Indian save any chances in the seventh.
At 30-30, Baghdatis hit a forehand service return winner to earn his first break point but Bhambri served well to save that.
At deuce, Baghdatis again earned a break point when Bhambri charged at the net. The Indian eventually dropped serve by netting his backhand.
The match was as good as over for Bhambri at that point before Baghdatis completed the formalities.