NEW DELHI: When Feliciano Lopez was announced as the replacement for Rafael Nadal an hour-and-a-half before the commencement of the tie, the initial thought was whether it was within the rules to make such a late change. That way, India might’ve been ahead 1-0, instead of being down 0-2, by way of forfeit. Even a staff member of the Indian team was surprised that the visitors were allowed to do so at the nth hour.
Such thoughts notwithstanding, Lopez downed Ramkumar Ramanathan 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 in a surprisingly tough encounter before David Ferrer showed he has a fondness for brutality, caning Saketh Myneni 6-1, 6-2, 6-1.
While the second rubber was as uncompetitive as the score suggests, the first one underlined the potential of the 21-year-old Ramkumar. It’s one thing to possess a forceful game, but quite another to force one’s will upon a player many rungs ahead in terms of class. For the first three sets, Ramkumar kept it very close, only losing out to Lopez’s moments of brilliance.
The partisan crowd had been quite deflated to learn of Nadal’s withdrawal but celebrated Ramkumar’s refusal to lie down because he gave them something to believe in, even though it was a long shot. It was Davis Cup atmosphere at its finest.
From big serves, measured yet stinging groundstrokes and decent net play, the Chennai lad, who made his debut in July against South Korea, was not holding back. But, as is the case against top-quality opposition, a few moments of indecision alongside a miss here and there are all it takes for the better player to make his move. Lopez, with his delightfully old-school style, did so when it mattered. But Ramkumar could hold his head high in defeat, which in itself is kind of a win. Even though Ramkumar got treatment on both his legs early in the third but that didn’t prevent him from clinching it. In the press conference, he sounded pleased.
“I spoke to my coaches, Juan Balcells and Sergio Casal and they told me that Davis Cup is less about ranking and more about heart. Even my team members said the same thing. I kept that in mind throughout,” he smiled. He stated that Lopez, whom he has previously played alongside in the Champions Tennis League, offered him words of encouragement. “Feliciano told me I fought well and asked me to keep up the good work. It’s nice coming from someone as accomplished as him. It shows this tie is being played with the right sportsmanship,” he signed off.