Pune: Ramkumar Ramanathan, the last remaining Indian in the singles draw at the Tata Open Maharashtra, fell just short of a famous win against fourth seed Malek Jaziri. The world No 132 was in command of the match till the tiebreaker in the second set, but went down 7-6(6), 6-7(5), 3-6 in his second-round match on Wednesday that went on till 1.20 AM.
It will go down as a tough loss for the 24-year-old Indian who lacked consistency on serve, firing up 20 aces to his opponent’s six but committed eight double faults, four of them in the last games of the decider which ultimately tilted the balance against him
Tunisia’s Jaziri, the world No 45, set up a clash with Belgium’s comeback man Steve Darcis in the quarter-final, to be played on Thursday. The 34-year-old Darcis, who entered the tournament with a protected ranking, beat 20-year-old American Michael Mmoh 4-6, 7-6(4), 6-2 in a match that lasted over three hours.
Despite the late start, Ramkumar was cheered on by the smattering of supportive crowd and he responded by playing one of his best matches in recent times. In the first round, he had fought it out against a higher-ranked Marcel Granolles after losing the first set.
In a sign of things to come, Ramkumar committed a double fault to give up a break point in the very first game. While he served it out and broke to take an early 2-0 advantage, he was broken right back.
After exchanging long rallies from the baseline and yet managing to volley as he prefers, Ramkumar had the opportunity to take the first set early. He had a set point in the 12th game but it went to deuce four times as Jaziri forced a tiebreaker.
In the tie-breaker, the Indian raced to a 4-1 lead with an early mini-break but soon it was Jaziri who got the first set point. To his credit, Ramkumar stayed focussed to save that and grabbed the opening set in 62 minutes with a sharp forehand passing winner.
The second set saw Ramkumar play his best service games and come up with solid returns from all over the court. While Jaziri kept attacking his backhand, he ran around it to ensure that he never fell back. He didn’t face a single break point in the second set but squandered the four he had, which went on to cost him dearly.
In the second set tiebreak, Jaziri roared back to life and showed just why he is the world No 45, reaching the career-best rank at the age of 34.
The Indian fired three consecutive aces to lead 3-0 but lost five points in a row as the Tunisian began forcing the errors with pressure play.
Heading into the decider, Ramkumar floundered on serve in the fifth game, but broke back immediately, much to the delight of the fiercely motivating crowd. The youngster was frustrated himself at his missed chances and began to crumble in the last few minutes, losing his concentration and the plot.
Perhaps it was the late hour, the cold, nerves or simply the fatigue of having played with high intensity for close to three hours — he committed three straight double faults and lost the game at love when he was serving to stay alive in the match.