NEW DELHI: A gritty Ramkumar Ramanathan showed stomach for fight despite his limitations against a much-superior rival even as Feliciano Lopez, playing in place of Rafael Nadal, handed Spain a 1-0 lead by winning the opening singles tie of the Davis Cup World Group Play-off tie against India here today.
The young Indian was graceful in a 4-6 4-6 6-3 1-6 defeat against world number 26 Lopez in the match that lasted two hours and 26 minutes.
Ramkumar, egged on by the capacity crowd, gave his all but it was not enough to worry his mighty opponent, who is a reigning French Open doubles champion along with compatriot Marc Lopez.
The 4000-strong crowd backed 203-ranked Ramkumar with the tunes of a band team and he certainly gave them a few moments to cheer and celebrate.
However, the pulling out of Nadal from the match due to an upset stomach must have left the fans disappointed.
The whole build up to the tie was focused on Nadal as tennis fans had hoped to see the 14-time Grand Slam champion in action.
Saketh Myneni, ranked 137, will now clash with David Ferrer in the second singles.
There was no doubt about the superiority of left-handed Lopez as he controlled the proceedings with ease. Ramkumar did try to fight it out but the Spaniard always had the match in his iron grip.
"I knew it was a good match, he is a great fighter, I was expecting such a match. It is humid but we tried to hang in and gave my side the point," Lopez said.
"Guys thank you," Ramkumar said acknowledging the support he got from the fans.
"I was trying every point, giving my best. Unfortunately could not win. Feli (Lopez) played solid, lots of first serves in."
Lopez did not have to exert much to put ahead his side, which desperately wants to reclaim its place in the World Group after their relegation in January 2014.
Ramkumar did take the third set from his rival, but Lopez changed gears easily and sealed the issue with his dominating game in the fourth set.
Lopez found passing winners with relative ease if Ramkumar rushed to the net, and without fuss dictated the rallies.
All that the Indian could do was fight hard which he did as an upset from him was not expected. Ramkumar lost a few points on his serve at the start of the match but a few unforced errors meant he was facing two breakpoints. He saved both but on the third, Lopez sealed the break with a passing winner.
The 21-year-old Indian saved another chance in the seventh game in which he double-faulted twice, up 30-0 but Lopez just needed to go with serve and the Spaniard easily served out the set in the 10th game at love.
When Ramkumar smashed a volley out on breakpoint in the first game of the second set, he again had handed Lopez early advantage, which stayed with him throughout.
Ramkumar could never pose a danger to his superior rival, who soon pocketed the second set too.
The Indian put his heart and soul into the match in the third set. From the service hold in the third game, he managed to slot the ball exactly where he wanted, backed by his solid serve.
Ramkumar took a medical time out during the third set, raising suspicion if he is buckling, did something that brought the house down by breaking Lopez in the eighth game.
Sudden unforced errors had Lopez down 15-40. He saved both but a lucky backhand slice that touched the netcord and dropped dead on Lopez's court gave the Indian a third breakpoint of the match.
Ramkumar seized the moment with a forehand winner, as Lopez watched the ball pass him. The crowd was at its feet, with the applause lasting several seconds. Ramkumar served out the set in the next. He had won a little battle and the fans had much to celebrate.
Lopez though immediately snatched back the momentum by breaking Ramkumar in the second game of the fourth set, rushing to a 3-0 lead.
In no time, the fourth set ended after that break.