A serve, 202 km per hour, out wide, but somehow Roberto Carballes Baena got to the ball. His return was a decent shot cross-court, with enough power to help him recover. Only, Ramkumar Ramanathan floated up to the net after launching the serve, and needed only to shift a notch to his right to volley home a winner.
The point took him to 40-0 at 5-2 in the second set, with three match points. He finished off his first round match of the Tata Open Maharashtra with an ace down the T. The last game itself summed up how Ramkumar had performed on the night.
Two aces and two volley winners – but it was the latter two that has been a new addition to his already big game. “In 2017 I served and moved up to the net a lot, and that won me a log of matches,” says the 23-year-old. “I feel more comfortable coming into the net and attacking it, and I think I am going to keep doing it.”
Ramkumar was up against the world No 106 Carballes Baena — a slugger with solid ground strokes. But the Indian did not let him settle into a hitting rhythm and his net play made the difference. The India managed to get an early break in the second, and continued to pile on the pressure.
At 15-30 in the seventh game (Ramkumar led 4-2), the Chennai lad approached the net again. The Spaniard did manage to get in a few strong forehand shots back, but Ramkumar held his position, volleyed back with relish till Carballes Baena crashed a backhand into the net.
To complete the break, Ramkumar returned his serve deep, rushed up to the net and volleyed home. The last game was a straight-forward affair that ended in less than two minutes. The win now takes the world no 148 into the second round at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune.
In his next match though, he plays top seed and World No 6 Marin Cilic. The last time Ramkumar played a top 10 player was at the Antalya Open in Turkey, when he came up with a upset win over world no 8 Dominic Thiem.
That win itself propelled him up the world ranks, as he broke into the top 200 for the first time in his career, and has only improved ever since. Of late, he’s developed a new potential weapon to his game. “Yeah you can say that, because I’m coming in most of the time after my serve,” he says.
He’ll bring that same spirit with him on Wednesday, against Cilic. “I have a lot of respect for him, but I will give my best shot. Whatever happens, happens. You can expect me to give a good fight,” he says.