Just hours before the 2013 Chennai Open final, Serbian Janko Tipsarevic practised with an 18-year-old Tamil Nadu player. To Tipsarevic and everyone else, he was just another practice partner but little did they know that this youngster would be the talk of the town in the following edition.
From Nandanam to Nandan Bal, Ramkumar Ramanathan’s career has seen a lot of twists and turns before he finally made it to the Centre Court of the Nungambakkam Tennis Stadium. On New Year’s Eve, the Tamil Nadu prodigy created ripples in the tennis circles when he beat India’s No. 1 singles player Somdev Devvarman on Tuesday. For the record, this was Ramkumar’s first match at the ATP level.
While Tamil Nadu has been the grooming ground for many a tennis player, after the Krishnans and Amritrajs, it didn’t have anyone to call its own. Just as Great Britain had to wait 77 years before Andy Murray won Wimbledon, Tamil Nadu’s long wait for a champion in the making finally seems to have borne fruit in the form of Ramkumar.
It all started with hitting the ball hard in the four walls of his residence in Chennai. After four years of practice on ‘home’ turf, his father enrolled him into MMC Tennis Centre. But having no one to practise with, he was soon shifted to the Triangle Tennis Trust in Nandanam. It’s here where Ramkumar was introduced to T Chandrasekaran, better known for being one of Leander Paes’ first coaches.
“As a kid, Ramkumar was very active and enthusiastic. I had to start from the basics and he grasped it well, being a keen learner. There was a spark in him and he looked like the one who would make grades in tennis,” said Chandra.
“The ripping forehand you saw in the match against Somdev is the result of 10 years of practising the same technique. On-court resources will sustain a player in the long run, that’s why you saw players like Ramesh Krishnan, Ramanathan Krishnan and Leander Paes play some of their best tennis in the Davis Cup in their late 30s,” he added.
The coach feels Ramkumar has the game and technique to go a long way in singles. “He has a good serve, a decent backhand, a forehand to fear and volleys as well. Plus, his groundstrokes are very good, which is very important for a singles player.”
So when did Ramkumar first make an impact? “It was four years ago when he won the U-18 nationals being an unseeded player. That’s when he came to the notice of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA) and they have been funding him since. Karti Chidambaram also took a personal interest in him and with the help of TNTA, sent him to Spain for training,” said Ramanathan, father of the 19-year-old.
With his technique sorted out, his stint in Spain helped the youngster work on his mental conditioning. “As a child, he was very emotional and angry. He has broken many racquets and used to yell or shout when he didn’t win matches. In Spain, they worked on this aspect, in controlling his temper. He trained under Sergio Casal there and keeps talking to him every now and then to keep his temper in check,” his father added.
Few months before the Chennai Open, the TNTA roped in the services of former Davis Cup coach Nandan Bal to fine tune the youngster’s game. Known for his on-court tantrums or as you might subtly call it, a crowd puller, the shy, introvert Ramkumar is slowly turning out to be the silent assassin. Having already created a stir, Ramkumar is definitely one for the future. In the words of India’s non-playing Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj, “Ramkumar is the rising star of the country.”