Chandigarh: Youngster Ramkumar Ramanathan made a winning Davis Cup debut with a hard-fought victory over Seong Chan Hong in the opening singles as India took a 1-0 lead in the Asia/Oceania Group-I tie at Chandigarh on Friday.
After battling for two hours and 36 minutes, the 21-year-old Ramkumar, ranked 217 in ATP singles list, was serving for the match when Hong suffered a thigh injury and conceded the match.
Ramkumar was leading 6-3,2-6,6-3,6-5 (15-15) when Hong suddenly clenched his right thigh, grimacing in pain. It brought a sudden end to the match, taking a bit of sheen out of Ramkumar's victory at the Chandigarh Club.
The hot and humid conditions coupled with a tough surface took a toll on the Korean. Saketh Myneni will now play against Yong-Kyu Lim in the second singles.
The persistent showers that lashed the city, also affected the grass courts as it was a bit soggy from the outset.
It was a dry but dead at the centre court where the ball hardly rose above knee level.
It prevented the match from rising to a quality level. There was no pace at all and mere keeping the ball in the court was a struggle for the players. The sun was not exactly blazing but the humidity made the playing conditions more challenging and the Korean was clearly wilting.
Ramkumar, who relied mostly on backhand slice, was also struggling but he broke the Korean in the seventh game when Hong netted a backhand and the Indian converted the breakpoint with a trademark inside out forehand winner.
The 21-year old Indian tried to up pace with his serve but that resulted in four double faults. Despite so many errors, Ramkumar managed to hold and broke Hong in the next game to sit pretty at 5-3.
Ramkumar hardly approached the net and kept hitting backhand slices for his returns from the back of the court.
Hong capitalized a bit on that by hitting a few unreachable drop volleys but could not stop Ramkumar from serving out the set in the ninth game.
The Korean fared better in the second set, well aided by Ramukmar's unrelenting unforced errors. A double break — first and fifth games — put Hong ahead 4-1.
In a jiffy, the second set was over with the two players level 1-1. The heat and humidity was testing the two players now. Hong looked better prepared for the surface than the Indian as the Korean moved well on the court and set up a few points easily.
Ramkumar faced another break chance in the third game of the third set but came out serving well to thwart the danger. It was now Hong's turn to face breakpoints in the next game and he only helped Ramkumar by serving a double fault on the second.
As the set progressed, the weather became cooler but the threat of rain was looming large. Ramkumar served with a lot of authority in the seventh to make it 5-2 in his favour.
Ramkumar had two chances to close the set in the next game but the Korean saved both set points. In the ninth game though, he did not give any chance to the Korean, serving out the set comfortably with a volley winner.
The Indian attacked Hong with aggressive strokes, pinning him to baseline and enticed a forehand error on the breakpoint. A break in the very first game of the fourth set Ramkumar up nicely for the win.
He smelt victory and started to play aggressively and the resultant errors meant he lost his serve twice after that to stand 3-3 with the Korean.
At 5-5, Ramkumar broke Hong again. He earned the break point with a backhand volley winner and converted that when Hong's backhand sailed over the baseline.
Ramkumar was serving for the match when Korean suffered a thigh injury and had to be lifted out of court, bringing an anti-climactic finish to the match.