Ramkumar: 'There's always pressure to play Davis Cup'

As India prepares to take on the Denis Istomin-led Uzbekistan, Ramkumar Ramanathan needs to show the full range of his regenerative powers, for his fourth Cup tie will by far be the toughest of the lot.

Ramkumar Ramanathan has the responsibility of living up to the No. 1 tag in the absence of Yuki Bhambri.   -  K. MURALI KUMAR

Ramkumar Ramanathan is technically India's No. 1 singles player. At 267, he is 18 spots ahead of Yuki Bhambri. The popular view, however, supports the case of the latter, a top-100 player when fully fit, and one, who, in a ringing endorsement of the same, handed Ramkumar a 6-1, 6-1 thrashing at the Aircel Chennai Open.

In the days since then though Ramkumar seems to have done his utmost to recover. He travelled to the United States for a gruelling two-week fitness training programme under Emilio Sanchez, a multiple-time Grand Slam doubles champion and brother of former women’s world No. 1 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario. Then against New Zealand in the Davis Cup, he won six consecutive sets, something – the quality of opponent notwithstanding – would have no doubt been morale-boosting.

As India prepares to take on the Denis Istomin-led Uzbekistan, Ramkumar needs to show the full range of his regenerative powers, for his fourth Cup tie will by far be the toughest of the lot. He also has the responsibility of living up to the No. 1 tag in the absence of Bhambri.

“There’s always pressure to play any Davis Cup,” Ramkumar said. “Whether Istomin comes or not, it's going to be tough. [Sanjar] Fayziev is a very good player. He played five sets against Hyeon Chung (Korean No.1 and a top-50 player). He should be very good to do that. And of course [Farrukh] Dustov is very experienced. Let's see what happens.”

The last season, more than any other thus far, would have shown Ramkumar what it took to reach a high level which he has always promised to. In his first best-of-five match, the Cup debut against South Korea, he cramped. He did take a set off Feliciano Lopez against Spain in the World Group playoff, but the lack of significant improvements to his game led to a state where he was too good for the Futures circuit but not yet good enough for the Challengers.

“In the last few weeks I was close to qualifying [in the Challengers] but I didn’t,” the 22-year-old said. “But I was playing good. That's the way to do it. I need to play tougher events and try to learn. I have to improve my backhand which I've been working on. If I can find the trick there, that will lead me up.”

“I've been working a lot on injury prevention,” Ramkumar added. “That's the main thing. Because I've been playing a lot of tournaments, but I have not been able to push myself on fitness. So whenever I lose early in tournaments, I work on my upper body strength for a day at least.”

On Monday evening Ramkumar was put through his paces by captain Mahesh Bhupathi. His improved fitness, added dimensions to the game were all put to test. He drilled his forehand as hard as he has always done. A few of them flew, forcing him to temper his aggression a bit. The backhands were sliced and on occasions he ran around them.

“Mahesh has played a lot of ties,” Ramkumar said. “He knows exactly what to do on-court and off-court. So I think it will help us.”

He has three more days to imbibe every bit of that experience.