Tata Maharashtra Open: Ramkumar Ramanathan begins New Year with a win

While Ramkumar Ramanathan had to sweat it out for a victory, the doubles pair of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan defeated Radu Albot and Malek Jaziri in straight sets to move to the second round.

Ramkumar Ramanathan returns a shot during his match against Marcel Granollers.   -  R. Ragu

Ramkumar Ramanathan began his Maharashtra Open campaign with a hard-fought win over Spain’s Marcel Granollers in the first round in Pune on Tuesday. The world no. 132 battled back from a set down to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

The 24-year-old Indian started on the wrong foot, with multiple unforced errors leading to him losing his serve in the very first game. He then broke right back with a combination of swift footwork at the baseline and unforced errors from his opponent.

With an aggressive game on display from both players, Ramkumar's serve was broken again in the third game.

He held his nerve on the second serves – pulling off an ace followed by a forehand volley. But with the Spaniard having the breakpoint, the Indian tried to place his shot beyond Granollers' reach but ended up hitting it just wide at the baseline.

As it Happened

The fourth game saw the first hold of the match, with Granollers held to love and pushed Ramkumar to make multiple unforced errors. Ramkumar responded by holding to love too to take the fifth game and make it 2-3 in the Spaniard's favour.

The Indian, like Prajnesh on Monday, had started attacking at the net more than usual but he seemed to be caught between deciding to rush to the net or staying at his baseline. Granollers took advantage of his indecisive game to put himself in a position where he was serving to take the first set.

Buoyed by having the upper hand, the Spaniard forced an error from Ramkumar's backhand and followed that point by winning the next two in an exact manner. Ramkumar, who spoke before the game about working on his backhand in the pre-season, was tested on just that and he faltered when it mattered to give away the first set 6-4.

The Indian took a break after the first game to change his shirt and gather his thoughts and it worked for him. He came and played a much more confident game, holding his serve and keeping his nerve when it mattered.

Ramkumar Ramanathan earned a hard fought victory to begin his campaign.   -  R. Ragu

 

His first serve was much improved and it won him 83% of his points in the second set. He held his serve in the first game of the set this time to take the lead for the first time in the match.

READ: Tata Maharashtra Open: Myneni withdraws due to injury

Granollers took the fourth game with well-placed crosscourt winners but Ramkumar started doing well with his backhand returns.

With his opponent pushing him to play on the backhand with every return, he got hold that shot, even winning a point through a backhand volley drop. Though he eventually gave away the game, winning a point off the backhand seemed to have instilled some belief in his own game.

Granollers' decision to attack Ramkumar on his weaknesses instead of playing to his strengths worked against him. The 32-year-old Spaniard, who came into the game with a 2-0 head-to-head lead against in the Indian, moved away from his baseline often and tried to force errors by using the serve-and-volley himself – something that was a big part of the Indian's game till date.

Leading the second set 3-2 and at 15-5 in the sixth game, Ramkumar wanted to go for a challenge but the referee turned down his request as he believed the call came too late. Ramkumar was upset and took a few minutes to try and change his mind, unsuccessfully, but he didn't let that unnerve him.

Trailing 5-4 in the set, Granollers went to the net to put some pressure on Ramkumar's backhand returns but was surprised with a fine cross-court volley. In the lead and close to taking the second set, Ramkumar went on the attack from Granollers' serve to get to set point and then took it with a forehand winner down the line to take the second set 6-4 and force the third.

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Ramkumar played to his strength and even used the backhand often – with a crosscourt volley, a slice and a drop shot – as Granollers lost the plot in the third set.

Ramkumar raced to a 4-1 lead and, after another exchange of words with the referee about a challenge which was accepted this time and went in Ramkumar's favour, he took the seventh game to deuce thrice and held on to take a 5-2 lead.

Serving for the match, Ramkumar started with a double fault but recovered with two forehands winners to move to double match points and an unforced error from Granollers gave Ramkumar the set and the match.

Saketh Myneni forced to withdraw

Earlier in the day, Saketh Myneni was forced to withdraw minutes before his first round match against Benoit Paire with an injury to his left foot.

Brazilian Thiago Monteiro, the lucky loser in the qualifiers, was his replacement and he put up a good fight against the Frenchman but, with little time to prepare for the game, exited the tournament with a straight-sets defeat – the highlight of the game being the Frenchman's 18 aces.

Double victory in Doubles for India

Top-seeded pair Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan defeated Radu Albot and Malek Jaziri in straight sets to move to the second round. The gold medal-winning Asian Games duo were bang for the buck with their first serve and took less than an hour to get past their Moldova-Tunisian opponents.

Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan celebrate after their win.   -  R. Ragu

 

A familiar face awaits them in the second round after Leander Paes and Miguel Reyes-Varela also strolled through their first-round game in straight sets against David Marrero and Hans Podlipnik-Castillo.

The results (First round) 

Singles: Simone Bolelli bt Denis Istomin 6-4, 6-4; Ilya Ivashka bt Hubert Hurkacz 6-7(9), 6-2, 6-3; Ivo Karlovic bt Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 7-5; Jiri Vesely bt Antoine Hoang 4-6, 6-4, 6-4; Benoit Paire bt Thiago Monteiro 7-6 (5), 6-3; Ramkumar Ramanathan bt Marcel Granollers 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; Laslo Djere bt Arjun Kadhe 7-5, 7-6 (6).

Doubles: Rohan Bopanna & Divij Sharan bt Radu Albot & Malek Jaziri 6-1, 6-2; Leander Paes & Miguel Angel Rayes-Varela bt David Marrerro & Hans Pdlipnil-Castillo 6-3, 6-4; Denys Molchanov & Igor Zelenay bt Pablo Andujar and Carballes Baena 6-1, 6-4.