PARTAB RAMCHAND | 14 MAY, 2018
All Eyes on Ramkumar and Yuki
Bring back the heady days of tennis
Those were heady times when in the pre Open era Ramanathan Krishnan was ranked No 4 in the world and in the Open era Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan were ranked as high as 16 and 23 in the ATP rankings.
To expect that kind of exalted status from the Indian players of today would be unreasonable given the fact that India have been languishing in the regional Asia/Oceania competition for some years now even if they have repeatedly qualified for the World Group play-off tie only to falter at this final hurdle.
In the days of the Krishnans and the Amritrajs India were regular participants in the World Group and in fact made it to the Davis Cup final three times – in 1966, 1974 and 1987.
Since those glorious days India’s best bets have been Leander Paes and Somdev Devvaraman. The former reached a high of 73 in 1998 but thereafter his concentrating on doubles meant that he was out of the singles rankings. Somdev reached a high of 62 in 2011 when he was the standard bearer of Indian tennis but gradually slipped out of the top 100 and retired from the game a couple of years ago.
In the increasingly competitive field of contemporary world tennis it would seem to be an uphill task to expect two Indians in the top 100 but that was what Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi had predicted after India had lost narrowly to Canada 3-2 in the Davis Cup World Group play-off tie in Edmonton in September last year.
``Both Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri should be in the top 100 by this time next year,’’ Bhupathi said. The Indian captain will no doubt be pleased with developments. Yuki has already broken into the top 100 and currently enjoys an all time best ranking of 83. Ramkumar is also enjoying his best-ever ranking of 115 so perhaps with some good fortune to go along with the skill of the duo Bhupathi’s prediction could well come true.
In any case the two are India’s best bets in the ATP circuit and also in the Davis Cup where Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna are around to lend a helping hand in the doubles. But as the Amritraj brothers Anand and Vijay have repeatedy pointed out India has to win its singles ties if it hopes to make it back to the World Group and that is why so much responsibility lies on Yuki and Ramkumar. In the heady days it were the singles victories notched up by Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan and Leander Paes that saw India as a regular participant in the World Group
Fortunately Yuki and Ramkumar seem to be moving in the right direction a steady rather than spectacular rise in the rankings certifying to that. Late last year both were hovering around the 150 mark but did give the impression that they had it in them to prove Bhupathi right. Breaking into the top 100 is not a new experience for Yuki who turns 26 in July. He was ranked 93 at the end of 2015 before struggles with form and injury pulled him down.
But in 2017 there were the first signs that he could break into the 100. His biggest accomplishment was stunning sixth seed and defending champion Gael Monfils of France in the Citi Open at Washington on his way to the quarterfinals. Monfils was in the top 15 when Yuki pulled off the upset victory.
This year Yuki has been fairly impressive. He first made it to the main draw of the Australian Open before losing to the higher ranked Marcos Baghdatis in the first round. In March he qualified for the main draw of the Indian Wells Masters and created a major upset by defeating world No 12 Lucas Pouille of France in straight sets in the second round before going down in the next round to world No 14 Sam Querrey of the USA.
He followed this good show by making it to the main round of the Miami Open winning his first round match before losing to world No 16 Jack Sock of the USA. In April, Yuki won his first Challenger title of the season defeating Ramkumar. It was this result that saw him re enter the top 100 rankings.
The 23-year-old Ramkumar’s biggest victory has been his stunning upset of world No 8 and top seed Dominic Thiem of Austria in the second round of the Antalya Open last year. This was incidentally his first match against a top-10 player. Then ranked world No. 222 Ramkumar won in straight sets 6-3, 6-2 and he progressed to the quarterfinals where he lost to Baghdatis in a third set tie break.
He continued his good form by qualifying for the first time for the main draw of a Masters 1000 tournament at the Cincinatti Masters where after winning his first match he lost in the next round. It was this result that saw him break into the top 150 and the steady progress has continued this year which has seen him rise to his career best ranking. He also played his part in India reversing a 0-2 deficit to a 3-2 victory over China in the Davis Cup a tie that Yuki had to miss because of injury.
Yuki and Ramkumar have an effective serve and volley game and both are mentally very tough as they have proved by victories over higher ranked opponents. Very rarely have they suffered bad defeats. They certainly hold the key not only to Indians making it big around the ATP Circuit but also to India making it back to the World Group.
It is going to be tought ask for the opponents in September will be Serbia. Moreover it is an away tie making it that much more difficult. With or without Novak Djokovic who has had a rather indifferent year Serbia will be a tough hurdle to cross. On the other hand it gives Yuki and Ramkumar the opportunity to prove that they have it in them to handle major assignments.
The Indians would do well to draw inspiration from their predecessors of 1993 when Leander Paes and Ramesh Krishnan joined hands to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Davis Cup history - a victory over France in Frejus.