Ramkumar Ramanathan, the top-ranked Indian singles player, has a penchant for going all in. Not only when it comes to digging in his heels during difficult matches, but also in his training sessions. On Saturday, this past weekend, during India’s Davis Cup tie against Uzbekistan in Bangalore, in what was a non-playing day for him, Ramanathan had a lengthy practice session with Prajnesh Gunneswaran that ended right before the 6.00 PM start of the doubles rubber.

The early smattering of fans grouped on the stands, while trying to get a perfect angle of the practising players for their pictures and videos, threw in a couple of ‘C’mon Ramkumar’ which brought in wry acknowledgement from the youngster who’s known to get the crowd behind him during his matches.

“It’s the way I play, you know,” he opened up matter-of-factly to Scroll.in when we caught up him for a brief interaction immediately after his practice session. “It’s been with me over the past few years and whenever I play with the home crowd it just happens. I hit some good shots, I pump the home crowd up. It works well most of the time.”

Ramanathan’s fervour did then work well in India’s favour as the team overwhelmed Uzbekistan 4-1 to extend their patch of consistency in the tournament, as they made their way back into the World Group Play-offs for the fourth straight year. More specifically, his attitude also showed his intent to take charge of the team, by not letting the momentum slacken amid the backdrop of the selection controversy that flared-up right alongside the start of the tie.

Making a unique place for himself in the Indian tennis framework


While there had been no doubt whatsoever that Ramanathan was an integral part of the final lineup of the Indian contingent, Yuki Bhambri’s presence – and experience – in the squad made the Delhi native a natural choice to be pegged as the favourite to lead India’s chances against the Uzbeks.

Thus, though Bhambri’s eventual withdrawal put the team under pressure, Ramanathan’s solidity then belied that he was making just his fourth appearance in a Davis Cup tie, and playing the event itself for the only second year. And yet, just as incredibly, the Chennai lad is now on a four-match winning streak, going back to the Asia/Oceania first round tie against New Zealand in February 2017.

Observers of Ramanathan’s game would list down his huge serves and forehands, and his grunting as the three cornerstones of his game. The facet of his mental perseverance, however, often gets brushed aside as it were inconsequential in determining the outcome of his matches.

For Ramanathan, who trains at the ubiquitous Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona, Spain, his mental fortitude is the biggest takeaway of his overseas tennis training. “I think playing [and training] in Spain [has] helped me with my mind,” the World No 269 went on to share.

“For mental toughness, it’s always good to play on clay. The points don’t finish slow and the matches are long. So, the level is also very tough to there,” he added, by way of further explanation.

As much as lack of mental fragility is crucial for a player, there’s also a need to have a well-developed and all-round style of play. With regard to Ramanathan’s game-plan, the conversation invariably moves on to his backhand, which has been the weakest chink in his armoury of shot-making. And, although not oblivious to his weakness, Ramanathan, however, stated, “I do hit some good backhand, but in pressure situations, I tend to miss and the serve goes off. So, it’s tough. It’s not that I have not been working on the backhand. I have always worked on the backhand. I know, it’s my weak point.”

However, he went on to add that his training module involved more around sharpening the strong points of his game rather than concentrating on just the backhand. “But, you know, I have been focusing on my strengths which are my serve and forehand. So, when you go to Spain, the Spanish style is to play the serves and forehands, and to keep dominating on the forehand,” he specified.

When foreign tennis training centres matter, or do they really?


It, thus, becomes easier to spell out the narrative that, that value-additions to Ramanathan’s game have been enhanced through his overseas training. However, it also presents the crossroads at which several Indian players find themselves stranded, struggling to find opportunities to go to well-known tennis centres abroad to try and divert their careers in what could be a better direction.

As it stands currently, four of the top-five Indian singles players (including Ramanathan) train overseas. While Prajnesh Gunneswaran and N Sriram Balaji train at the Schuttler-Waske Tennis University in Offenbach am Main in Germany, Bhambri has the Nick Bolletieri Academy in Florida as his training base.

And except for Balaji, who has reached a career-high in singles ranking this week, at the 305th place, both Bhambri and Gunneswaran are ranked inside the top-300, in the 285th and 286th spots respectively. For that matter, Bhambri even broke into the top-100 of the ATP singles ranking, back in 2015.

Thus, while the benefits visibly overweigh the cost of having to enrol in these academies, Ramanathan also opined that instead of second-guessing on the expenses, they needed to be considered as investment for a player’s future.

“It’s the best thing for any player to go abroad and train there. That’s, however, the tough part in India. [Parents] should believe in the kids and think of this as an investment. And, as a risk should invest in sending the players to foreign tennis academies,” he stated.

Elaborating on the nature of the how’s and why’s on the help provided by such foreign academies, Ramanathan said, “There are good coaches there, so even players who are not ranked, play really well. Also, everything is in one base. From the courts to the facilities, it’s all under one roof. Plus, there are many tournaments around and they are also important. So, players [if they can] should at least have a stint of a year or two there.”

Speaking of stints, post the Davis Cup high, Ramanathan is looking forward to rejoin the Pro Tour and restart his bid to improve his ranking, beginning with the $125k ATP Challenger tournament in Taipei, from April 17-23 where he has been drawn in the main draw.

“I need to play a lot more challengers and get my confidence up. [So], I hope I can play well there and get some good matches, so it will also help my rankings,” then commented Ramanathan on his road ahead, hinting not just about the rest of the 2017 calendar, but also for his days ahead in the ATP circuit.