Ramkumar opens for India against China in Davis Cup

Ramkumar Ramanathan's opponent, Yibing Wu, has played only two matches on the Tour so far this season.

Ramkumar Ramanathan faces a test of character.   -  R. Ragu

It will be a test of character, more than his tennis skills, for Ramkumar Ramanathan when he takes on the Chinese sensation Yibing Wu in the first match of the Asia Oceania Davis Cup tie in Tianjin on
Friday.

The 23-year-old Ramkumar has been playing well in the professional circuit in the last few months, to take his ranking to a career-best 132.

Read: Bhupathi warns of ‘brutal’ conditions ahead of tie against China

He had also given a very account of his ability in the World Group play-off against Canada in September last year when he beat Brayden Schnur in four sets.

It will be a best of three sets format this time and Ramkumar with a 6-4 win-loss record in Davis Cup would be expected to give a strong start for India.

While Ramkumar has kept himself busy in the professional circuit, the 18-year-old Yibing Wu who had won the US Open juniors singles and doubles titles last year, and followed that with a Challenger title in
Shanghai, has played only two matches this season on the Tour, owing to injury.

Yet, in the cold and gloomy conditions, expect the Chinese to step it up in the battle, as the rankings go out of the window.

"Should be a good start. Am expecting Ram’s experience to be good enough to rattle the youngster in these tough conditions. But, he still has to get it done’’, said the captain of the Indian team, multiple Grand Slam champion Mahesh Bhupathi.

Sumit Nagal who made his Davis Cup debut against Spain in the World Group play-off and almost beat Marc Lopez in a dead rubber before breathing problems forced him to retire in September 2016, will take on the experienced Ze Zhang in the second rubber on the opening day.

It may be recalled that the 27-year-old Ze Zhang, ranked 247, had beaten Ramkumar in a Challenger in Bangkok in 2015 rather easily, in their only meeting. It will be interesting to see how much he is able
to pull the weight of his experience against the Indian team.

The 20-year-old Sumit had won a $100,000 Challenger in Bengaluru last season and is ranked a career-best 213.

After all the turmoil, and the bitterness of the Rio Olympics, Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes are ready to attack in tandem against Mao-Xin Gong and Di Wu in the doubles rubber, the first match on the second day.

In the new format, the reverse singles will also be played on the second day.

"The rest of the team is hitting the ball sharp and ready to go’’, said Mahesh.

While India would be aspiring to make it to the World Group play-off for the fifth time in a row, China will attempt to make the grade for the first time since 1990.

In short, it will be a test of fire for the Indian tenacity against the Chinese talent, in intimidatingly cold conditions, on a slow and low bouncing hard court.