Ramkumar Ramanathan served three consecutive double faults, just after breaking Temur Ismailov in the second set. He was under pressure, and it did not help that the Uzbek had figured out the obvious chink in his armour – the backhand.
The 22-year-old Indian’s skillset includes a powerful serve, strong forehand, and a decent volley. He has a reasonably reliable double-handed backhand but that’s not quite his go-to shot. Actually, Ramkumar often leaves the right-half of the court open since he drifts to the left, coverting backhands into forehands. Many a times opponents have exploited this tendency and passed winners down the vacant forehand flank.
Serving 30-40, Ramkumar was involved in a rally that had 10 successive cross-court backhand shots. Ismailov was using top-spin and Ramkumar opted to counter the shots with the slice, a shot that gave the Uzbek enough time to compose himself and load-up. Eventually, Ramkumar’s return failed to clear the net to give Ismailov a break, and later the set.
The game unsettled the Indian. “After the second double fault I kept thinking about them and maybe then served the third double fault as well. I shouldn’t have doubted myself,” he said. “I wanted to keep playing on my forehand and I was putting too much pressure on myself.”
He did hold eventually, winning 6-2, 5-7, 6-2, 7-5 to give India the first point in the tie, but not quite in the manner in which it was expected. Especially since Ismailov played a majority of the game on one leg. At 2-2 in the third, Ismailov started cramping. His movement was restricted there on, and his game play had narrowed down to focusing on his service game and playing to Ramkumar’s backhand. The Indian folded as well, as he struggled to keep his serves in play – he served 14 double faults and made only 54 per cent of the first serves. Yet noting the condition of his slow-moving opponent, Ramkumar admitted he ‘should have finished the game off earlier.’
The chairman of the AITA selection committee SP Misra asserts that Ramkumar’s tendency to avoid backhands stems from lack of mental strength. “There’s no harm in running around a shot, but you can only make that useful if you are confident,” said Misra. “He’s leading the team for the first time, so there is a little pressure on him. But he needs to handle that pressure better to allow him to play a more open and faultless game.”