Ramkumar Ramanathan’s first-ever ATP Tour level final resulted in a defeat over America’s Steve Johnson at the Hall of Fame Open in Newport. In the match that lasted two hours, Johnson won 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 for his fourth career title and second this year. However, for Ramanathan, it is a big moment to become the first Indian to reach final of an ATP event since Somdev Devvarman played the South Africa Open final in 2011. There, Somdev had lost to Kevin Anderson. With Ramkumar’s defeat, India’s quest for a singles trophy continues with the last coming in 1998 courtesy Leander Paes in Newport.
By progressing to the final, Ramkumar has moved from 161 in the ATP rankings to 115 – a career high – and would have breached the top-100 should he have won his first ATP-level tournament. Following the semi-final win, he admitted that the experience of playing on the ATP circuit is bearing fruit. “I played a lot of ATP tour matches this year even though I wasn’t winning a lot of games. Emilio Sanchez (coach) was telling me to keep playing the higher tournaments and aim big. He said I have the game and before every match he talks to me, which gives me confidence.”
Johnson, who was yet to drop more than three games in a single set before the final, was pushed by Ramkumar in the opening set. The American’s serve faltered under tricky conditions with the final being pushed following rain delays. The wet weather had a role to play on the baseline with erratic bounces and slips and slides at different passages in the match. After the first set went on serve for ten games, Johnson broke following an error filled game by Ramkumar. A passing shot and a return at the feet later, Johnson had the chance to bag the first set. He didn’t have any trouble in closing out the opener.
In the second set, it was Ramkumar who drew first blood by breaking the Johnson serve and kept things alive by winning the second set 6-3. On the third set point chance on his serve, Ramkumar saw Johnson send his forehand long and the match to be level at one set all. Following the second set, Johnson received treatment on his right shoulder.
The third set started disastrously for Ramkumar with early break gifting Johnson the advantage. With the scoreline reading 3-0, it was a massive ask for Ramkumar even with Johnson serving poorly. Serving to stay in the match, Ramkumar had his serve broken with Johnson slapping two forehand winners across the Indian at the net. On the first Championship point, Johnson jumped across to his forehand and sent the ball comfortably past Ramkumar at the net.
Ramkumar would rue not making most of Johnson’s poor first serve in the match and despite the serve troubles, the world no 48 won 83% of his first serve points. Credit to Johnson for giving away just two break point chances for his second title in 2018 after winning in Houston on clay.