The Newport ATP draws make an event for curious reading. The four Indians entering the doubles field at the grass-court tournament were— Purav Raja, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Divij Sharan, and Leander Paes. But the sole entry of Ramkumar Ramanathan in singles created quite a stir.
Aiming to win the title after Leander Paes in 20 years, Ramkumar suffered defeat. Another player to enter ATP final was Somdev Devvarman in 2011. Ramkumar went down 5-7, 6-3, 2-6 in almost two hours against the American home hope Steve Johnson.
Since the last few years, India’s doubles success has boosted its singles ambitions. A lot of Indian youngsters caught in the wilderness of the singles have sought refuge in the warmer climate of doubles after Bhupathi and Paes blazed a trail in the late 1990s.
Vijay Amritraj in his interview during the sidelines of the 2017 Chennai Open articulated that no tennis player grows up with the ambition of being a doubles star. When the players are playing, they are expected to win ATP titles. The bar is so lowered nowadays that even qualifying for an ATP event is glorified.
Now it is the single stars that are being lauded. Yuki Bhambri reached his career high ranking of 83 in April making the cut for all the three Grand Slams in the season and won his biggest title at the ATP $150,000 Challenger in Taipei. Prajnesh Gunneswaran following Yuki Bhambri closely reached his career-high ranking of 152, won a $150,000 event in the last week of April, and qualified and reached the second round of the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart in June.
Injury-ridden Saketh Myneni showed a ray of hope last week of another comeback by beating the former top-10 player Mikhail Youzhny at a $125,000 Challenger event in Astana.
Ramanathan topped the list of achievements at Newport.
It was on the same court where Paes in 1998 had secured his solo single title, Ramanathan paraded with his sassy chip-and-charge strategy. The youngster in the past few seasons has made an intensive effort to add that edge in his net game.
After the finals on Sunday, the Indian player said, “At Futures, I was used to playing defensive but I felt that I was good at volleys too, I started to come close to the net more often and I felt I had good hands and could end points early with the volley. I’ve started feeling much more comfortable coming up in the last year.”
The hard work and the strategized game plan paid off for him on seemingly low bounce field of Newport’s grass courts. The Indian player’s serve came out to be incredibly reliable as a big serve and forehand were the two crucial pillars of his game. He had dropped just one service game in his run to the finals. Defeating Denis Kudla in the second round, Canadian player Vasek Pospisil in the quarters and then got the better of Tim Smyczek in the semi-finals.
Though Johnson playing in his fifth tour final struggled to keep up with Ramanathan’s brave raids, found a way out in the final. Majority of the Ramkumar’s approach shots were targeted towards Johnson’s backhand. The American understood the strategy and started running around the shots. He twice broke the Indian’s serve in the third set in the quest of notching up his fourth ATP title.