Ramkumar Ramanathan didn’t possess a second serve on Thursday. In this warm Chennai everning,he just preferred to thunder in two firsts everytime. The bizarre tactic worked at times,taking his opponent,the 38th ranked Marcel Granollers,by more shock than surprise. But at other instances,such as the first point of the second set,it didn’t.
Having lost the first set 6-2 due to poor approaches to the net,the 19-year old qualifier decided to go for broke. Ramkumar’s first serve,whizzing at 194 kmph,missed the target by a metre. He decided to challenge anyway. The chair umpire perhaps stifled a giggle. The second serve,at 199 clicks,smashed into the tape. Double fault. 0-15.
As Granollers walked over to the ad court side to begin the next point,Ramkumar decided to head towards the chairs. Mid-game no less. He dug into his kitbag,fished out a racquet,tested it against his knee and unhurriedly adjusted the strings. Granollers,looking rather amused,as the Indian then traded his drenched white shirt for a clean and dry yellow one.
Then he finally began his trot back to resume an incomplete game. But not without making a show of it signalling the crowds to rise with his swaying hands,egging them on to make some noise. They responded,but Ramkumar didn’t. Amidst loud cheers,he lost his serve on love to concede the earliest of breaks. Granollers 1,Ramkumar 0.
Granollers didn’t drop a point in his first service game and just two from his next. In between,Ramkumar,never shy to play an expansive shot or two (more like four) found four winners from his second service game to get on to the second set scoreboard. Just 11 minutes into the second set,the fifth game began. At 1-3 and love-30 down on serve,a great run looked to be all but over for the boy who played and won his first ever ATP tour match earlier this week,against the best ranked Indian on the singles tour,Somdev Devvarman. But here,at this point,the boy who clearly seemed to miss the taste of winning,decided to do something drastic.
Slicing and dragging the Spaniard ahead,Ramkumar found himself wheeling towards a drop volley on his backhand side. With both players locked at the net,Ramkumar eyed passing space on either side of his opponent. Like a dragflicker staring into a crowded goal mouth,he looked left,coiled his wrists right but ended up going straight. For Granollers body.
no holding back
Instinctively,the Spaniard leapt,trying to hopelessly hide behind the face of his racquet. The ferocious hit,however,crashed into the tape and caused a collective gasp. The attempted body hit had Granollers staring long and hard at the boy. Ramkumar by then had already begun his journey back to the service line,well in the process of doing his crowd thing again pumping his hands and getting them to holler. It was a stage in the match where I thought I could change things around. I don’t know why,but I just felt that if I assert myself,the situation could quickly change, he said later. Then he revealed this: So I decided to go for that body hit. I was looking to hit him. I wanted to send my message across. Brutal honesty 1,jaded cliches 0. The message did come across. Granollers lost the next three games in a row. Two of them on his serve. One of them on love. At 4-4,momentum sat in Ramkumar’s box. But sadly for him and the spectators,Granollers,down to zero challenges during this period,saw through the severely testing times.
It is a bit disappointing to not go on to win that set and push the match into a third,but I will take a lot of positives from this week, he said after going down 6-4 in the second. He can count a lot more game,attitude,style and guts,to name a few of his sparkling attributes. As a country deprived of tennis talent on the singles court,India can count on a lot more. It can count on the fact that Ramkumar is a rare find,one who will never go down without a street fight. I want to do whatever it takes to win, he said in a voice far more timid off-court than his buzzing energy inside the arena. That attitude,that energy that I bring to a game has worked well for me so far. I hope it will back me in the future.
The future he talks about has been constructed with care at the Sanchez Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona ( where Andy Murray trained at a similar age). Here,Ramkumar achieved two things. One,on the bouncy red clay of Spain,he began mastering a deep hitting topspin game. And two,he broke away from the Indian tradition of pinning one’s aspirations on a coaching stint in the USA. Thirty out of the top 100 players today are from Spain. Why would I ever go anywhere else? he asks.
Other results: Benoit Paire beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-1 6-4; Yuki Bhambri beat Fabio Fognini 6-1 5-5 (Fognini retired); Vasek Pospisil (Canada) beat Lu Yen-Hsun
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