Ramkumar Ramanathan became the first Indian to reach the title clash of an ATP world tour event in seven years as he powered through to the final of the Hall of Fame Open in Newport on Saturday, defeating American Tim Smyczek 6-4, 7-5.
This is Ramkumar’s first ever ATP World Tour final appearance, as he had never progressed beyond quarter-finals previously.
Ramkumar started the match well with a break of serve in the first game and held on to his serve in the remainder of the set to draw first blood. The 23-year-old, currently ranked 161 in the world, started the second in fine fashion too, breaking early to take a 2-1 lead. But unlike the first, the second set was a roller-coaster affair, with the players exchanging breaks frequently. In the seventh game, Ramkumar saved a series of break points to try and find his way back but the 30-year-old American held on. Overall, remarkably, Ramkumar saved eight of the 10 break point opportunities he faced on his serve.
In his next service game, Ramkumar broke back to bring the second set on serve, and broke again at 5-5, to serve for the match and a place in the final. He duly did that, winning the match against the world No 123 in 90 minutes.
Somdev Devvarman was the last Indian singles player to reach this far in an ATP Tour event. The former India number one had reached the final of two ATP 250 events – 2009 Chennai Open, where he lost to Marin Cilic and 2011 SA Tennis Open in Johannesburg, where he had finished runner-up to Kevin Anderson.
Ramkumar was 1-2 this year in ATP events until this week, and was on a five-match losing streak, including the qualifiers at Wimbledon.
But at the ATP 250 event in Newport, Rhode Island, he turned it around. He ousted Dominican Victor Burgos 6-4, 6-1 in his opener and dispatched US eighth seed Denis Kudla 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the second round to set up the clash with the Canadian Vasek Pospisil, another higher-ranked player, which he won 7-5, 6-2.
It’s been 20 years since an Indian won an ATP tour final, which incidentally came at the same tournament in Newport when Leander Paes won his career’s only singles title in 1998.
Additional reading: Indian tennis round-up, where you can find results from other main tournaments.