Updated: September 18, 2021 2:14:22 pm
There was no urgency in his walk to the baseline. No sign of worry either when he was facing a set point – instead there was a wry smile on Otto Virtanen’s face. His movement, even during long rallies, was languid. He wore a baseball cap backwards to add to the nonchalant demeanour. He was the underdog, with nothing to lose.
Ranked 419 in the world, up against World No 165 Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Virtanen was playing the opening match for Finland in the World Group 1 Davis Cup tie against the Indians. Serving at 5-6, 30-40 – set point for Prajnesh – in the second set, Virtanen, with the same air of nonchalance, walked to the baseline and hammered down his ninth ace of the match. A few minutes later, he closed out the match for a shock 6-3, 7-6(1) win.
A couple of hours later, Emil Ruusuvuori made it 2-0 for the hosts with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Ramkumar Ramanathan.
— Davis Cup (@DavisCup) September 17, 2021
In their first-ever tie against the Finland in the Davis Cup, India was handed a tough challenge at the Espoo Metro Areena, around 30 km from Helsinki. The hosts have World No. 74 Ruusuvuori, the highest-ranked singles player in the tie. So, the visitors were targeting 20-year-old Virtanen, playing in only his second Davis Cup tie, for two out of the three points they need to advance.
It also helped the Indian cause that their No. 1 would play Virtanen first in the hope that a win could put scoreboard pressure on 22-year-old Ruusuvuori in the second match.
But the aggressive youngster, the son of former Finnish Davis Cup player Pasi Virtanen, came up with an early surprise. He broke Prajnesh’s serve in the sixth game of the match and never let go of the lead thereon. It was the only break of the match, but Virtanen did have another seven opportunities to break serve again. Five of those were saved when Prajnesh was serving at 4-4 in the second set.
Rising to the occasion
On his own serve, Virtanen faced just two break points –saving both, including the big flat ace wide when facing set point.
“It was a combination of him coming up with the goods in the big moments, and me not doing enough,” says Prajnesh after the match.
“It was a pretty good match from Otto. He served pretty well today, didn’t give away any free points. Played pretty well when he had the lead.”
India did have a slight advantage from the draw with Prajnesh playing first. But they were always running the risk of the left-hander not being at his best. The 31-year-old from Chennai has struggled with wrist injuries throughout this season, and it has affected his form as well.
“I’m not playing my sharpest, considering the fact that I’ve had injuries and not played too much. But every player goes through that at some point. That’s not an excuse for not being able to find a way today,” he says.
Photos from the practice session today morning featuring Ramkumar Ramanathan and Saketh Myneni
— Indian Tennis Daily (@IndTennisDaily) September 17, 2021
“I didn’t do what I needed to today. Few loose games here and there. I feel like I didn’t convert on some of the close situations.”
Virtanen though, held his own rather well. He had a 73 percent first serve percentage (55/75) – including 10 aces – compared to Prajnesh’s 58 percent (40/69). His service remained unbroken throughout the match, including the tie-breaker he went on to win 7-1 – where Prajnesh committed four unforced errors.
In only his third Davis Cup match, the youngster from Hyvinkaa has picked up the biggest win in his career over a player once ranked as high as 75 in the world.
Ruusuvuori makes it 2-0
Ruusuvuori meanwhile held off Ramkumar in the first set that saw both players struggle to find their range. They traded breaks early, before Ruusuvuori managed to get the decisive break in the 10th game of the set to go 6-4.
They started to hold their serves better in the second set, but Ramkumar, serving second, was again broken at the most crucial stage in the match. Ruusuvuori dispatched a backhand-down-the-line return winner to earn the only break in the second set to claim it 7-5 and give Finland a 2-0 lead.
On Saturday, the veteran duo of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan will start proceedings in the only doubles match of the tie against Henri Kontinen and Harri Heliovaara.
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