A week before arriving in Delhi, Ramkumar Ramanathan got a taste of Spain in Italy. As has been the case virtually the whole year, the 21-year-old Indian lost early in a Challenger tournament in Genova. Just as he was planning to take an early flight to Delhi, Ramanathan bumped into Tommy Robredo’s coach. The Spanish veteran, too, was playing the same tournament and the Indian managed to get a short training session with him.
This weekend in Delhi, Ramanathan will be up against some other bigger Spanish names. And there are fears that the Davis Cup singles rubbers against Rafa Nadal and David Ferrer might turn into prolonged training sessions for the world no. 203.
India’s Davis Cup non-playing captain Anand Amritraj hopes that won’t be the case. He wants Ramanathan to cause some upsets. Not just during the world group playoff tie against Spain, which begins Friday, but also on the ATP circuit. A lot is expected from Ramanathan on the singles circuit, but after the initial spurt, his career seems to have plateued. That gutsy three sets win over Somdev Devvarman at the Chennai Open now seems light years away.
Incidentally, that first round tie – played on New Year’s eve in 2013 – also triggered an astonishing downfall for Devvarman. A remarkable loss of form combined with frustrating spells of injuries resulted in Devvarman sitting out for a major part of the last two years. The ever-so-delicate Yuki Bhambri too has sat out for virtually the whole of 2016, nursing an injury.
In absence of India’s two best singles bets, this should have been the weekend where Ramanathan could have finally marked his arrival on the big stage. Instead, he will be playing second fiddle to Saketh Myneni – a late-bloomer who was nowhere in the picture when Ramanathan burst on to the scene two years ago, but has eventually surpassed him. Amritraj says it’s time the Ramanathan moved to ‘bigger leagues’. “Last two years he has been around 200. He needs to play bigger tournaments. I have told him, ‘you need to get rid of the Futures and play more Challengers’ and an occasional ATP event,” Amritraj says. “He needs to move to bigger leagues and get beyond the 200 mark, maybe closer to 150 like Saketh, Yuki and Somdev have. It’s time he does that. He’ll be 22 in November so he has some time in his hand but not much.”
Ramanathan has won four titles in his career so far. But all have been on the Futures circuit. “But Futures are obviously easier, you can win several of them. However, you can win only 18 or 27 points depending on the kind of tournament you’re playing. He beats people he is supposed to beat. He has to move up and cause some upsets. That’s what I am looking for,” Amritraj adds.
To be fair, Ramanathan has played more Challengers this year compared to the last two. But the transition hasn’t been smooth. He lost in the opening of the last last tournaments he entered – in Como, Genova and California.
Earlier this week, he acknowledged the results haven’t been great but insisted that when he loses in the first round, he tries to train for rest of the week with ‘very good players.’ Like the training session with Robredo, Ramanathan also had a short stint with Australia’s Nick Kyrgios just before Wimbledon this year.
This weekend will be the first time Ramanathan will be tested against quality opponents on a big stage. So far, he’s shown few signs of being nervous, saying he will try to be aggressive against the Spaniards. “Whatever happens here, it’s going to improve my game and help me going into future tournaments,” Ramanathan, who made his Davis Cup debut against South Korea in July, says. Amritraj, too, trusts his abilities. His towering frame, endless energy and powerful shots have all impressed him throughout this week during practice. How well he executes it on Friday remains to be seen. “But Ram generally likes a big stage, just like Leander,” Amritraj says. “He thrives in big-match scenarios. I’m sure he’ll fight it out.”