India's Davis Cup player Ramkumar Ramanathan could be a big star
Ramkumar Ramanathan reacts after winning his Davis Cup singles match against New Zealand's Finn Tearney at the Balewadi Sports Complex in Pune on Sunday. Pic/AFP
In the end, it all went according to rankings and plan! India beat New Zealand 4-1 to move into the second round of the Davis Cup Asia Oceanic zone. They will now take on Uzbekistan, a surprise winner over South Korea.
The tie clearly belonged to Ramkumar Ramanathan, who has now staked his claim to be India's Davis Cup torchbearer for the next few years. He won both his singles in straight sets.
It wasn't so much the scoreline, but the emphatic manner in which he destroyed his opponents that impressed tennis lovers and more importantly, his captain. If he stays injury-free and focuses on his work ethic, Ramkumar could crack the Top 150 in the ATP rankings Yuki Bhambri, coming off multiple injuries, got India off to a flying start by getting the better of Finn Tearney in the opening tie. Both players got off to a very scratchy start with many unforced errors flying off their racquets in the first set.
Once the dust settled, it was Yuki's better groundstrokes from the back of the court that dictated the pace and flow of the match. After pocketing the first set, Yuki's game and body language improved tremendously and he played well within himself to carve out a straight sets win.
The second singles was always going to be the crucial one and Ramkumar put paid to any arguments and discussions on its outcome by coming out all guns blazing.
Serving consistently over 200 kmph, Ramkumar showed a marked improvement in his serve, temperament and overall game by slowly dismantling Jose Statham, New Zealand's most successful Davis Cup player ever.
With India 2-0 up, it was an unusual but delightful sight to see the tennis stadium overflowing for the doubles tie.
Leander's record and the possibility of India sealing a victory was what the crowd had come to see, but neither happened as the Kiwi team (both ranked in the Top 50) played consistent tennis to wear down India's last-minute combination of Paes and Vishnu Vardhan.
X factor missing
Leander played his heart out as always and Vishnu supported him ably, but that X factor which is so important in big matches, was clearly missing and it eventually told on the final result.
Ramkumar once again stole the show on the final day by demolishing Finn Tearney 7-5,6-1,6-0. Playing the fourth rubber whilst being 2-1 up is always tricky as the thought of winning the tie for his country is always lurking at the back of the player's mind.
After a hesitant start, Ramkumar once again found confidence and rhythm on his serve and groundstrokes to demolish a listless Statham.
Next challenge: Uzbekistan
For captain Anand Amritraj, this was a befitting send-off by his team, who played their hearts out in front of the Pune crowd, most of whom were witnessing a live Davis Cup tie for the first time in their lives.
India now play Uzbekistan who beat Korea. It's a home tie for us and I believe this is a better draw for us than playing Korea in Korea.
Even though Dennis Istomin is playing the tennis of his life given his win over Novak Djokovic in Australia, the rest of the team is a little suspect.
The tie is in April which means it will be hot in most parts of the country and if India choose the venue carefully and use all the home court advantages that we have at our disposal, we could well be playing the World Group playoff tie in September for the fourth year running.