A taste of serve and volley

The triumphant Ramkumar Ramanathan and Ankita Raina.-S. PATRONOBISH

Ramkumar Ramanathan and Ankita Raina, the winners of the National grass-court championships, are confident and ambitious. Amitabha Das Sharma takes stock of the National scene.

Ramkumar Ramanathan of Tamil Nadu, who can still fit in the junior category, tore through a field of experienced seniors to claim the senior national grass-court men’s tennis title. Ramkumar’s emergence as the new national champion was one of the few notable points in the tournament.

Ankita Raina of Gujarat enlivened the women’s category regaining the title after a break of two seasons.

Ankita ended the reign of Rushmi Chakravarthi, one of the most accomplished grass court campaigners of recent times, in reclaiming the title. Rushmi’s defeat to Ankita — one of the most composed players to have hit the scene in recent times — in the semifinals in a way symbolised a transition that may well enrich Indian women’s tennis.

In picking up the crown Ramkumar played the now rare serve-and-volley game.

The 18-year-old player from Chennai was an adornment to the hallowed courts of the Calcutta South Club, the permanent venue of the grass-court Nationals. Ramkumar definitely showed more maturity than players his age and there was a classy touch in his approach. He had an all-round game in which he excelled with powerful baseline strokes and adopted a chip-and-charge method whenever it was warranted.

“I have always aimed for a place in the Davis Cup team. I hope the National title will be a right step towards that,” said Ramkumar. Having been initiated into the sport at the age of five, the player showed the benefit of starting early. “I have been training at the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona for the last couple of years. I must admit that my game has improved a lot after joining the academy,” he said while giving due credit to his Spanish coach Joan Balcells. Ramkumar also recalled the contribution of T. Chandrasekaran and Illyas Hussain, who helped in shaping his career.

Ramkumar’s best came in the crucial stages of the tournament — where he ended the challenge of a clutch of seniors to bag the crown. He despatched the veteran second-seed Nitin Kirtane in the quarterfinals and clipped the prodigious run of Bengal’s Rupesh Roy in the semifinals. Ramkumar, who was seeded sixth, produced his best in the title round where he simply pulverised the eighth-seeded local challenger Saurav Sukul. The aggression and control that Ramkumar showed in claiming the title augured well for his future.

The major dampening aspect was the absence of a number of top names in the men’s category. There were a few notable absentees in the women’s section, too, and this sparked the discussion about the tournament losing its appeal to the present generation of players. And with the formation of the players’ association happening alongside, the talk about schism and strife gained more ground. “The All India Tennis Association should do something to restore the tournament to its pristine status.

"This tournament used to be the most important fixture in the tennis calendar in the past and the AITA should make it a mandatory participation for all players in the country,” said Jaidip Mukerjea, the president of the organiser — South Club. Mukerjea, a former Indian captain and one of the finest tennis players of the country, said there was no way the tournament could be allowed to wither away and that the national body should seriously think about bringing back the stars.

Ankita Raina’s return to prominence was the direct result of her dogged determination to come back ever since she lost the title a couple of years ago. Ankita, who has shifted base from her native city Ahmedabad to Pune to train under coach Hemant Bendre, said she dreams of playing a Grand Slam and is putting her heart and soul into it. Knowing well that her dream would never be realised with her current world ranking (561), Ankita said the “national title will inspire me to work harder and do well in the international tournaments.”

The 20-year-old player showed marked improvement in her strokes, which had more power and depth, compared to the last time (in 2009) when she won the crown for the first time.

“I did fairly well in the tough Maharashtra state league and I hope to do well in the ITF tournaments and improve my ranking after this,” Ankita said. The way Ankita dominated Rushmi in the semifinals, and went on to give a commanding performance over Natasha Palha of Goa in the final, drew a lot of applause.

THE RESULTS

Men’s singles: Final: Ramkumar Ramanathan (TN) bt Saurav Sukul (Ben) 6-2, 6-1. Semifinals: Saurav bt Ronak Manuja (Mah) 6-3, 6-4; Ramkumar bt Rupesh Roy (Ben) 6-7(3), 6-1, 6-1. Doubles (final): Elwin Antony & Mohammed Fariz (TN) bt Lakshit Sood & Chandril Sood (UP) 7-5, 3-6, 10-3.

Women’s singles: Final: Ankita Raina (Guj) beat Natasha Palha (Goa) 6-1, 6-2. Semifinals: Ankita bt Rushmi Chakravarthi (TN) 6-1, 6-0; Natasha bt Mahitha D. Reddy (AP) 6-7(7-3) 6-3, 6-2. Doubles (final): Treta Bhattacharya(Ben) & Natasha Palha (Goa) bt Rushmi Chakravarthi (TN) & Ankita Raina (Guj) 4-6, 6-1, 10-8.