Making a stupendous start to the fresh season, Ramkumar Ramanathan scalped higher-ranked Roberto Carballes Baena to set up a second round clash with tournament-favourite Marin Cilic at the inaugural Tata Open Maharashtra, on Monday in Pune.
Coming into the season-opening ATP 250 tournament with some memorable wins in 2017, the 148th-ranked Ramkumar prevailed 7-6(4) 6-2 over Carballes Baena, placed 42 places above him. The Indian will now take on world number six Cilic, who had ended a runner-up to Roger Federer at the Wimbledon championships. While Cilic will be outright favourite in the next match, Ramkumar had a confidence-boosting win over world number eight Dominic Thiem at Antalya Open last season.
"I have lot of respect for him, I am going to give my best. I want to present a good fight before the home crowd. Whatever happens, happens. What you can expect from me is good fight from first point to last," said Ramkumar. "I felt comfortable coming onto the net. I did whatever I could. There is still a long way to go. Last year I was doing lot of serve and volley, the courts here are fast so why not. I am going to stick to it. Whatever works on a day," he said when asked about his latest strategy to adopt serve and volley.
The 23-year-old Indian youngster looked in control of his game and the match even as he missed a few opportunities to put the Spaniard under pressure early in the contest. At 3-2, he could have broken his rival and nose ahead but did not convert the chance. Serving well, he closed the ninth game at love with an ace to take a 5-4 lead but Carballes Baena was up to the task as he too served at love to make it 5-5. Both Ramkumar and Baena mostly stayed at the baseline, relying on their solid forehands. The Indian's feeble backhand slices meant that the Spanish player managed to stretch the set to the tie-breaker.
Carballes Baena had realised this weakness in his opponent and continued to spray the balls on the left side of Ramkumar but the Indian still found a way to not fall in the trap. In the beginning of set second set, Carballes Baena served a double fault at decue and hit a forehand wide on the breakpoint to let Ramkumar seize the initiative. With two strong service games, Ramkumar opened up a 3-1 lead.
Ramkumar had a breakpoint in the fifth game as well but the Spaniard saved that. However he did not squander the chance in the seventh game, and cruised to the win. He closed the match with an ace. The biggest upset of the day was Spanish qualifier Ricardo Ojeda Lara's win over sixth seed Czech Jiri Vesely.
Lara, ranked as low as 198 shocked the world number 68 with a 6-3 7-6(5) scoreline. He will now clash with the winner of the match between qualifiers Sumit Nagal and Ilya Ivashka. Seventh seed Kazakh Mikhail Kukushkin quelled a late challenge from Moldova's Radu Albot for a 6-2 7-6 (4) win in his opening round.
In a one-sides match, world no. 85 Marton Fucsovics defeated Nicolas Kicker for the loss of just three games to set up a clash against fourth seed Frenchman Benoit Paire. In the doubles, two Indian pairs were in action bot both bowed after winning their first sets. Wild card entrants Vishnu Vardhan and N Sriram Balaji lost 6-3 6-7(8) 6-10 to the Canadian-American pair of Adil Shamasdin and Neal Skupski. Local boy Arjun Kadhe and Paire lost 6-1 5-7 7-10 to second seeds Robin Haase and Matwe Middelkoop.