Like novels and narratives, a leitmotif — at times — can be traced in sports too. The Tata Open, camping for the first time at the Shree Shiv Chhatrapati Sports Complex here, was under threat till Tuesday morning. Hatred led to riots, which led to fear. People remained indoors till afternoon, but when Ramkumar Ramanathan and Marin Cilic took to the centre court, the stands — in an ocean of blue — painted a different picture altogether.
The Bhima Koregaon protests instilled fright among the Punekars. Cabs didn’t ply, people didn’t want to drive amid the blue-flagged right-wing bikes. But well, the colour ‘blue’ — also the masthead of the ATP 250 event with its hoardings and standees, fought the negativity with ease.
Ramanathan lost the battle 6-4, 6-3 to Cilic and missed out on the quarterfinal berth. But that’s alright. He knew it wouldn’t be easy, but then, he raised hopes of a bright future — of tennis and its viewership in India, amid impediments. Even when he fell on his knees, trying to anticipate Cilic’s nasty forehand, the crowd kept chanting his name.
They say morning shows the day.
The balance of the match could be judged from the onset. When the Croatian, known for his power play and the two-handed backhand, smashed the advertisement hoardings — beyond Ramanathan’s reach and prowess — to bag the first few points and the game, it was understood that the match won’t last long.
But the Chennai boy did put up a fight. He returned in the next game with a better serve. Ramanathan probably needed a push to iron out his flaws, the chants added to his confidence. He quickly earned an advantage from being 2-0 down.
Cilic made a few unforced errors, giving away easy points to his opponent, but he knew that it wouldn’t last long. He set up a plan to drain Ramanathan out. Ever since the error, the Indian was on his toes. Moving left. Coming forward. Leaning on his right and at times, almost throwing his racquet to earn points.
The World No. 6 bagged the first game 6-4 with style and vigour.
However, he kept teasing Ramanathan throughout the second set. The mental game clearly turned out to be one of his trump cards. He single-handedly dictated the Indian’s movement and called the shots.
When Cilic was leading three games to one, he forced Ramanathan forward and then, on return, launched a missile from the baseline bringing the Indian down.
Cilic pocketed the second set 6-3 to book a date with Pierre-Hugues Herbert. Now, if the Frenchman springs a surprise, it will be quite a bolt from the ‘blue’.
On the other hand, defending champion Roberto Bautista Agut crashed out of the tournament, losing the plot to France’s Gilles Simon in straight sets 3-6, 6-7.
Men’s singles: M Cilic bt R Ramanathan 6-4, 6-3; G Simon bt B Agut 6-3, 7-6; B Paire bt M Fucsovics 6-4, 6-7, 7-6; R Haase bt N Jarry 6-3, 6-7, 7-5; P Herbert bt Y Bhambri 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
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