Luck happens to all of us but fortune favours the brave.
It was plain luck for Ramkumar Ramanathan that world number 12 Kevin Anderson’s knee packed up and he withdrew from their second-round encounter in the Aircel Chennai Open. But it was sheer guts that saw him pull off a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win to earn his first quarterfinal berth on the tour.
When pressure strikes, people usually quail. It’s human nature to look for the quickest way out of misery. For most of our tennis players at this level, that relief comes from a quick loss. The way Alexander Kudryavtsev was pelting the ball in the beginning, it did look that a loss was looming. Nerves, lack of fitness and an inability to rise to the demands of the occasion are the usual culprits.
Now, it’s not like Ramkumar has the physique or the physical prowess required to win consistently at this stage. But, the beauty of his feat is that despite legs that still need work and a game that’s still in the process of developing, he still found a way to win.
Ramkumar was obviously going for too much in the first set and his strokes sprayed. But by the second, he was smarter. Overpowering an opponent is one thing but winning with guile is almost superior. For, that shows a strong mind that’s looking to figure out a way to prevail in a cauldron situation. It’s not looking to escape by shutting down and losing. Legs can be built; making the head strong is a far tougher call. Ramkumar displayed on Thursday that at 21 he has grappled down that most crucial of asks that most people can’t figure out in a lifetime — he owns his own head. He doesn’t seem to have space for any demons there.
Ramkumar slowed his game down, kept more balls in and consistently urged the crowd to support him. All along, the silent support of his coach Juan Balcells was a pivotal factor in his victory. Feeding off the coach’s nervous energy, Ramkumar kept looking at him for approval after each good point and the shared chemistry between the two was apparent. As local organisers proudly point out, Tamil Nadu state association has been able to garner funds to have a coach with their best player all year round but the national federation or Delhi have done next to nothing to prop up India’s highest ranked player Yuki Bhambri even after the 23-year-old has clawed his way up to 83 in the world rankings.
The support to Ramkumar is already bearing results while Bhambri seems destined to carry on with the apathy of both the national and state bodies that he represents. Sometime in the future when he chooses to miss an Asian Games or Davis Cup tie in favour of furthering his own tennis career, the jingoists in this country and sundry tennis administrators will all rise up to condemn him. At this crucial time when Bhambri needs support, one wonders just where they are.
In a major disappointment to his hopes of getting his ranking up, India’s Leander Paes had to withdraw from the doubles as his partner Marcel Granollers fell sick. The veteran will have to strive all the harder this year as he was defending a runners-up spot here and the consequent loss of points is bound to see his ranking fall further from the 41st spot he currently occupies.
Ramkumar next runs into last year’s finalist, Slovenian-born Briton Aljaz Bedene, who is a seasoned pro and is unlikely to get as flustered as Kudryavtsev did when the crowd got behind Ramkumar. While the Indian feels that it’ll be just another day in office, he can be assured that it’ll be far, far tougher.