Shared News | New Delhi | Updated: July 24, 2018 11:52:21 am
Serve and volley game has been the key to 23-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan’s success on the grasscourts of Rhode Island
Playing the Hall of Fame final at the Newport, Ramkumar Ramanathan showed his hand early: kicking off the match with an ace at 111mph, followed by three net-charges and as many cross-court volley winners. In his attempt to recreate Leander Paes’ triumph at the venue twenty years ago, Ramkumar revived a tactic from the same era.
Opposed to the baseline slugfests of modern tennis where only fools rush in, the 23-year-old chipped and charged, served and volleyed on the grass courts of Rhode Island. While he lost Sunday’s title 5-7, 6-4, 2-6 to Steve Johnson (who has now won the solitary grasscourt and claycourt ATP events held in the United States this year), Ramkumar out-aced the American 10 to 1 and showcased impressive net skills and pick-up play.
“At Futures I was used to playing defensive but I felt that I was good at volleys too,” said Ramkumar after the match.
“I started to come close to the net more often and I felt I had good hands and could end points early with the volley. I’ve started feeling much more comfortable coming up in the last year.”
In the third game of the opening set, with his hands out in the front, Ramkumar got down nice and low and caught the inside of the ball to make it spin away from Johnson; the textbook inside-out half-volley brought a smile to his face.
While Johnson found his range towards the end, shuffling around the backhand to unleash passing shots and huge forehands, the veteran admitted that Ramkumar “knows how to play in Newport.”
“He’s very good at the net,” Johnson, 32, said after the match. “I thought I hit a lot of good returns down at the feet and he hit some great volleys. I was just fortunate to get an early break in the third and keep the momentum.”
Uncluttering the mind
While he came into the tournament on the back of first-round exits at Winnetka, Recanati, Wimbledon qualifiers and Ilkley, Ramanathan realised that one good match could turn it around.
“On grass, anything can happen, a few points here and there,” Ramkumar said. “I felt very composed. There’s always pressure and think I handled it well. I was fighting for every point. Coming into this week I wanted to focus on my serve and play the way I wanted to play.”
While he thanked his coaches at Sanchez-Casal for the fruitful week — he earned $52,340 and 150 points, jumping 46 spots to world No. 115 — Ramkumar made a special mention of a certain 18-time Grand Slam champion.
“Leander has been a really great guide for me,” said Ramanathan of Paes, who took time out to cheer him on from the stands this week. “He has always been there for me.”
Sanjay Singh, longtime physio of Paes and currently working with Ramanathan, says it was all about rejuvenating the youngster.
“Sometimes, when you’re tired, you just need good talk. I have done that with Leander for 28 years now. We know that, and that’s why we will talk some rubbish and he will be good to go,” said Sanjay. “Ram is very happy when he’s alone. But he was also mentally tired. We’ve been talking, meditating, doing yoga along with basic sessions of hitting. It has clicked for him, now he needs to maintain the momentum.”
Serve and volley ploy
Sanjay also says that the serve and volley ploy came together at the Pune Challenger last year, when the eventual finalist Ramkumar was training with Paes.
“When he was coming to the net in Pune, even his parents were surprised,” said Sanjay. “We have always known that he has the groundstrokes, but you can’t just blast off people from the baselines.”
But with the blink-and-you-miss grass season over, slower surfaces await Ramkumar, who next plays at the hardcourts of Atlanta Open and Washington’s Citi Open. Strong showings will see him break into the top 100 and could lead to a main draw appearance at the US Open.
It’s time for Ramkumar to stay on the charge, one way or the other.