Replacing Rafael Nadal in the highly-anticipated opening Davis Cup rubber, Feliciano Lopez had big shoes to fill. However, it was never a question of being as good as the world No 4. Lopez had a job at hand and he did it in expected fashion.
The Spaniard defeated Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in two hours and 26 minutes at the DLTA complex on Friday to give the visitors the first point in the World Group play-off tie.
For his part, Ramanathan put on a valiant effort in what was his second Davis Cup appearance. The match consisted of numerous micro battles where the world No 26 proved too good for the Indian.
The fifth game of the opening set was one such battle. The score was 15-30 on Ramanathan’s serve when Lopez rushed in after his stroke. The Indian’s hurried forehand struck the net. Ramanathan saved the subsequent two break points, but conceded a third after deuce. It was Ramanathan’s turn to run in, but Lopez passed him on the right with ease to earn the match’s first break.
Interestingly, Lopez wasn’t even supposed to take the court on Friday. He was the last-minute replacement for the visitors after Nadal was sidelined by a stomach bug.
Like the Mallorcan, Lopez is also left-handed but that is where the similarities end. While the world No 4 has won 14 Grand Slams, Lopez hasn’t made a semifinal till. In fact, over a 19-year career, Lopez has a paltry four ATP 250 and one 500 title.
While he won last month’s Swiss Open on clay, his previous singles title on hard-court came at the now-defunct 250 SA Open six years ago. His Davis Cup singles win-loss record of 5-8 had raised the hopes in the Indian camp ever so slightly before the match.
And for the first 15 minutes, it looked as if India might capitalise on Spain’s bad luck. Ramanathan lost just one point in his first two service games and pushed the Spaniard to deuce in his two. However it was Lopez who drew first blood and the first break point.
Lopez’s ploy of avoiding a baseline slugfest was both a result of the conditions and his preferred style of play. With the humidity in the high 50s, the 34-year-old looked worse as the match progressed. It wasn’t surprising then to see Lopez — an established doubles player — to keep points short by rushing to the net.
“It’s pretty humid, but I just hung in there and tried to give my best. I found a way to win the match and give our team a point,” said the Spaniard after the match.
For his part, Ramanathan tried to emulate the style, but at the wrong moments. Facing a break point in the first service game of the second set, the 21-year-old’s strong serve put Lopez under pressure but smashed a ball wide. The solitary break was enough for Lopez to close the second set in 32 minutes.
It was in the third set that Ramanathan decided to adapt. After two strong holds, the Indian started playing to the crowd, and the packed-house reciprocated.
His call for a medical timeout after taking a 3-2 lead raised some concerns, but the Indian came back firing. He earned two break points, his first of the match, in the eighth game.
A rushing Lopez saved two but conceded another after the ball hit the cord and fell in his own half. Ramanathan converted it with a forehand winner and sealed the set with an easy hold.
With his opponent on the backfoot and the raucous crowd behind him, Ramanthan just had to maintain the pressure. He did the exact opposite, conceding a break in the second game of fourth set. It was all about catching up from there, and despite some flashy points and a valiant effort, the Indian fell short.