On a calm, sunny day in Antalya, Turkey, in front of a sparse crowd, India's Ramkumar Ramanathan pulled off a spectacular upset. The 22-year-old handily defeated the top seed and eight-ranked Dominic Thiem 6-3, 6-2.
Ramanathan, ranked 222 in the world currently, came into the event as a qualifier. After winning two qualifying rounds, he defeated Brazil's Rogerio Dutra Silva in the opening round of the Antalya Open for his first top-100 win of the year. Not only was this tournament his first ATP Tour-level event on grass-court in 2017, the second-round clash against Thiem was also the first time Ramanthan was facing a top-10 player in his career.
On the other hand, Thiem, who won the grass-court Stuttgart Open in 2016, had recently made the semi-finals of the French Open, where he lost to eventual champion Rafael Nadal. The top seed was the heavy favourite in this match, but he could barely survive an hour against Ramanathan's onslaught of big serves and forehands.
Ramanathan showed no signs of nerves in the biggest match of his career, and started proceedings with an ace. He confidently held at love and then immediately broke Thiem in the following game for a 2-0 lead. He held on to the advantage all through the first set, sealing it 6-3 with his fifth ace of the match. Ramanathan saved the only break point that Thiem would create in the match while serving at 5-3 with a booming, unbeatable serve.
In the second set, Ramanathan continued to dominate play and made the most of a faltering Thiem. The Austrian made uncharacteristic errors throughout the match and never really found his groove. However, the Indian deserves full credit for capitalising on his opponent's lack of form, and using his big serve to his advantage. Ramanathan kept Thiem on his toes with his serve-and-volley tactics and ventured to the net whenever possible.
Thiem barely put up a challenge in the second set, and after a long 15-point game at 2-3, he caved in and was unable to hold under the relentless pressure applied by Ramanathan. Sensing a big victory, Ramanathan refused to lift his foot off the pedal and broke again in the seventh game, this time at love. He hammered the win home in the same way that he had started the match — with an ace.
World No.222 beats world No.8! 😲
Ramkumar Ramanathan shocks Dominic Thiem in Antalya... pic.twitter.com/RDxPOOouPg
— Tennis TV (@TennisTV) June 27, 2017
The Chennai boy ended the match with 10 aces and two double faults, and had an impressive first-serve percentage of 63. Out of 31 first-serve points, he lost only three and overall, won 19 more points in the match than Thiem.
“I worked really hard for this,” Ramanathan said after the match, “Thank you to the crowd for coming out and cheering. I like the grass. Courts are fast. I took my chances and it worked out. I’m having a great time here and thanks to all the organisers.
"I just gave it my best and was serving well out there. Two or three points can often make the difference on grass,” Ramanathan was quoted as saying by the official ATP website.
“My coach told me to enjoy myself, which isn’t easy. It’s good to have a win over Thiem. Hopefully I can keep it going," he added.
Ramanathan knew how important and special this victory was, especially given his spluttering form this year. With his ranking falling below 250 at the start of the year, Ramanathan has been forced to play Futures and Challengers. He has had at a difficult time at Grand Slams as he didn't make the cut for qualifiers at Australian Open. He lost in the first round of qualifying for Roland Garros, and will not be able to compete in the singles qualifying of Wimbledon either because of his low ranking.
The Indian finished runner-up at Tallahassee Challenger in April and won a Futures event in Singapore. The local lad was given a wildcard into the Chennai Open in January, which was his only ATP level tournament this year before Antalya.
"It was a tough start to the year for me because I was one out (of the qualifying draw) for the Australian Open, so I went back home to train for a few weeks,” said Ramanathan. "I think that helped me a lot, though, and the Challengers that I played in the US made me stronger."
Ramanathan's win is also a rare chance for Indians to celebrate a win in the men's singles. The last time an Indian defeated a top-10 player was way back in 2014, when Devvarman registered a win over Juan Martin del Potro, then ranked five, at the Dubai Open. However, the Argentine had retired hurt after dropping the first set. Before that, we need to go as far back as 1998 for a victory of a similar magnitude, when Leander Paes got the better of Pete Sampras.
Ramanathan first burst on to the scene as a teenager in 2013 when he beat India's then top-ranked player Somdev Devvarman at Chennai Open. The 6'2-tall Ramanathan has always possessed an explosive serve and regularly serves around the 220 kmph-mark. He also has a big forehand and is a decent volleyer. However, he hasn't been able to utilise his weapons to his full advantage in his career so far and has struggled to live up to his full potential.
All this could change with his massive victory over Thiem. He faces 79th-ranked Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus in the next round and should be confident of pulling off another upset. He is already assured of a career-high ranking of 184, which could help propel him enter tournaments with more ranking points on the line. Ramanathan is only 22-years-old, and with age on his side, he should aim to use this victory as a springboard to better results.
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Updated Date: Jun 29, 2017 16:25:33 IST