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Vol. XXVII No. 16, December 1-15, 2017

The new hope from Chennai

by Partab Ramchand

by Partab Ramchand

ramkumara

Ramkumar Ramanathan

Ramkumar Ramanathan has a huge tradition to follow and it must be said that he has maintained it. The leading Indian player has generally emerged from Tamil Nadu, as history has proved time and again, and the 23-year-old Chennai-born lad, despite the pressures of being in such a situation, is the latest flag-bearer of tennis excellence from the State. Ramkumar is clearly the brightest prospect in the country and in September this year he reached a career-high singles rank of 150 which he improved to 146 at the start of November. The manner in which he is shaping, a place in the top 100 during 2018 is well on the cards.

Ramkumar is a tall and remarkably fit 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, Ramkumar’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 Ramkumar 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 $10,000 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.

Ramkumar, 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. His other goal at the time was to be a top 100 ranked player by the end of 2017. And internationally Ramkumar’s career really took off this 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, Ramkumar 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 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, Ramkumar qualified for the first time for the main draw of a Masters 1000 tournament in the Cincinnati Masters. He won his first round match but lost in the second round. It was this result that propelled him to a then career high rank of 150.

The upward graph is likely to continue in 2018, given his growing confidence level, his sublime playing skills and ideal big match temperament.

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