Tennis, they say, is a mental sport. Brute strength won’t get you anywhere. Paradoxically enough, lack of it also won’t.
The best bit about Ramkumar Ramanathan is that the fellow was not overcome by the shivers. Yes, this shivering has been quite the bane for players. This correspondent has time and again cringed in his seat while watching another “next big hope” dream crumble to just another bit of wishful fantasy in the wind. Poof, there went that bit of potential. Ramkumar, on the other hand, is not cut from the same cloth as those flaky ones. Though he went down 6-7 (5), 6-4, 6-3 after two hours and 18 minutes there was one thing that was certain: this is a man with heart.
This is also a 21-year-old young man with the ability to soak pressure in front of his home crowd and keep his head enough to try change of pace, gamesmanship and even feints to try and put his opponent under pressure even as Ramkumar himself is barely clinging on to keeping himself in the match.
“It was an excellent outing and he made it a winnable match. Losing two service games in a row (in the third set) was his undoing but he has certainly improved a lot,” says Ramesh Krishnan, one of the most astute observers in the Indian tennis fraternity.
That was the good bit. The not so good bit is that Ramkumar still does not seem to have a solid training programme away from the court. His coach Juan Balcells felt that the man from Chennai has come a long way. “He played three hard matches at this level – something he is not used to. I think he performed pretty well and didn’t seem to be physically bothered.” That’s the coach’s assessment. Your correspondent, however, feels that Ramkumar’s recovery from the away ball needs far more bounce and his footwork when running up to the placed short ball, can definitely do with some more agility for better positioning. On physical prowess Krishnan says: “He’ll have to keep working, keep adding on. It’s a never ending process.”
One for future
Ramkumar’s performance kindles hope that he may emerge as one of our most potent singles players for the future. The best bit is that he whacks the hell out of the ball. Modern tennis does not like soft players, they just get blown away. However, his performance in this event need not be taken as the benchmark for how he will perform throughout the year. Without the bulwark of stronger legs, such performances tend to be more sporadic that consistent. The latter comes from having the physical base to keep running down, getting into the right position and uncoiling those heavily top-spun groundstrokes which are the norm for men’s tennis.
The other bit of positive news is that this man revels in being on the big stage. He has a bunch of theatrics – as of now raw and at times a bit jarring like his penchant for touching the court as if he is paying obeisance to an elder in good old Indian tradition – which means he is happy to do his own thing out there. He doesn’t seem to be stage shy. Of course the top of the world is yet far. That was illustrated by the clinical precision of Stan Wawrinka as he downed Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-4, 6-4 in the first match out on the show court. That economy of movement and the contained stroke production – no flailing of legs and arms, core-driven strokes – is the zenith that Ramkumar needs to aim for. It’s a long way off just yet. But then if you have the heart, there ain’t no mountainhigh enough.