While pre-match rituals are common on the tennis Tour, India’s Ramkumar Ramanathan has a unique post-match ritual of his own. The 22-year-old bows down to the court to take blessings as an acknowledgement of his win before going up to greet his opponent at the net.

On Wednesday, as the world No. 156 takes to the court against French veteran Paul-Henri Mathieu for their first round of qualifiers at the US Open, he would then be hoping to extend this trait of his – alongside getting one more win to add to his already diverse haul this year.

A huge stride

A regular in the ITF Futures and ATP Challenger Tour, with rare forays in the ATP Pro Tour, Ramanathan started to make bigger inroads into the latter in earnest in Antalya in June, when he upset Dominic Thiem in the pre-quarter-finals. And, where one could debate exhaustively about the Austrian’s crammed schedule and difficulty in adapting to grass, Ramanathan’s exploits didn’t change terminologies. It was an upset, alright.

Making it to the qualifying draw at the Citi Open in Washington, followed by a main draw appearance in his first ATP Masters tournament, then, only added heft to his remapped career graph. It has also raised the question as to what has been the catalyst for this surging of the youngster?

To this, Ramanathan’s coach and former Spanish tennis pro Emilio Sanchez has quite a simple response. “[He is] tactically much more determined,” observed the former world No 1 to The Field. “Mentally, [he] is convinced he can play at any level. Physically, [he] has become stronger and is where he needs to work more.”

Alongside having the conviction in his aptitude, it has also helped that Ramanathan has grown surer of his game. His serves and forehand always had traction, but now they look to have gotten more depth and potency to catch his underestimating opponents unawares. There again, while these components of his game continued to be amplified, doubts still prevail over his backhand – and its sustainability for lengthier rallies.

Ramanathan has had, himself, acknowledged that his backhand isn’t weak per se. And, Sanchez concurs as well. “[It] Is not weak, it is just not as heavy and opponents find a way to take away initiative.”

Sanchez also feels that only way to make sure that his backhand doesn’t become a notorious encumbrance for Ramanathan is then to keep working on not losing his position on the court alongside going for deeper returns on his backhand. This would negate any opportunity his opponents could have to capitalise.

First step, and a lot more to come?

Speaking of capitalisation and improving upon existing good runs, Ramanathan, then, also needs to work his way upwards using these results as an effective bridge.

To that end, Somdev Devvarman – the last player to have played in the ATP Masters main draw until Ramanathan in Cincinnati – believes that the only way Ramanathan can do so is by consistency. Not just from one match to another, but also across tournaments.

And in order to ensure such an improvement, the former Indian No 1 added, it was necessary for Ramanathan to continue with the hard work he has been investing until now towards building his career.

“This is just the beginning,” pointed out Devvarman to The Field. “[He has] shown everybody, and most importantly, [he] has shown himself that they can go out and compete against the best in the world. It takes years and years of dedication with the right team, the right coaches, the right mindset, the right training and preparation. [So it’s important to be] humble about it, [and] understand that it’s a long process and these things aren’t built overnight.”

Which is, perhaps, why his participation in the 2017 US Open qualifiers need to be looked at as the turning of a page of his tennis career instead of an encapsulation of a year on the professional Tour. As Sanchez then summed it up, “He is breaking barriers. He’s only growing as a player.”