PARTAB RAMCHAND | 25 JULY, 2018

Ramanathan Poised For the Big Breakthrough

An all time best ranking currently


About a year ago Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi had predicted ``both ``Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri should be in the top 100 by this time next year.’’

At the moment Bhupathi will be pleased as punch for his prediction has virtually come true.

Yuki has already broken into the top 100 and after reaching an all time high ranking of 83 is currently perched on 86. But it is Ramanathan who has really made the big leap.

After being 150 at the end of the year he is currently enjoying an all time best ranking of 115 thanks to a really commendable performance in the Hall of Fame tournament at Newport last week when he reached the final – the first time an Indian has entered the title clash of the ATP Tour event since 2011.

Somdev Devvarman was the last Indian to enter a final while the last Indian to win an ATP Tour event was Leander Paes in 1998. Paes who has been mentoring Ramkumar Ramanathan for some time now was in the stands at Newport shouting words of encouragement and perhaps it was his presence that saw Ramanathan put up a heart warming show.

The 23-year-old Chennai born lad went down fighting in three hard fought sets to the 34th ranked Steve Johnson of the USA but typically Ramanathan while being disappointed at not winning the title after coming so close is not losing sleep over the result. He remains focussed on his immediate goal of getting in the top 100 at the earliest possible opportunity.

Ramkumar Ramanathan is a tall right hander and his game is power packed. He has a brilliant serve and volley game and his smooth ground strokes are a blend of control and accuracy. Taking to the game at the early age of five Ramanathan’s natural talent combined with hard work saw him make rapid progress and he first attracted considerable attention when as a 15-year-old he won the national junior (under-18) title in Chennai in 2009.

He then made further headlines when he won the national title at Kolkata in early 2013. It was a year later that he really caused a sensation. First he qualified for the main draw of the Chennai Open and then beat the leading player in the country Somdev Devvarman in the first round.

It was clear by now that a special talent had arrived on the tennis horizon and over the next couple of years Ramanathan made steady progress around the international circuit playing Futures and Challengers. In 2014 he won the Cambodian $10,000 ITF Futures title in Phnom Penh. Later that year he won back to back Futures titles in Turkey.

A month later he underlined his ascendancy by knocking out Yuki Bhambri in the ATP Indore open. In November the same year he celebrated his 20th birthday by defeating Saketh Myneni in the final of the Gondwana Cup $10000 ITF Futures tournament at Raipur. Early in 2015 he repeated his victory over Somdev Devvarman achieved at the Chennai Open by defeating India’s highest ranked singles player again this time in the first round of the $50,000 ATP Challenger Kolkata Open. In 2016 he reached the quarterfinal of the Chennai Open.

It was the first time that he reached the quarterfinals of an ATP tour event. In October the same year he partnered Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and the pair reached the finals of the Vietnam Open.

Ramanathan who honed his skills at the Sanchez Casal Academy in Barcelona for three years made it clear very early in his career that he wanted to represent India in the Davis Cup, the Olympics and the Asian Games. He has already performed admirably in the Davis Cup.

Internationally Ramanathan’s career really took off last year. In April he reached his first singles final at the Challengers in Tallahassee (USA). In July he reached his second Challengers final at the Nielsen Pro championship at Winnetka (USA).

But it was in between these two events that he enjoyed his biggest moment on the pro circuit so far. In the Antalya Open in Turkey Ramanathan produced a major upset by defeating world No 8 and top seed Dominic Thiem in the second round.

This was his first match against a top ten player. Ranked world no 222 Ramkumar Ramanathan won in straight sets 6-3, 6-2. He then progressed to the quarterfinals where he lost to the much higher ranked Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in a third set tie break. In August Ramanathan qualified for the first time for the main draw of a Masters 1000 tournament in the Cincinatti Masters. He won his first round match but lost in the second round.

It was a rather indifferent start to the year for Ramanathan. Coming into the Newport tournament he had lost four first round matches in a row. But he has the happy knack of putting all this behind him and concentrating on the task on hand and the result was the best week of his career so far. And having risen to 115 he has a realistic chance of making it to the main draw at the US Open next month. However he is committed to playing in the Asian Games which clashes with the last Grand Slam of the season.

But for Ramanathan it is an easy decision. ``I have always wanted to play in the Asian Games and win a medal for India,’’ he says. But given his steady rise thanks to his sublime playing skills and ideal big match temperament it is clear that 2018 could well be Ramkumar Ramanathan’s breakthrough year.
 

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