A gutsy Ramkumar Ramanathan buried a sluggish start to eke out an inspiring win over Alexander Kudryavtsev and enter the men's singles quarterfinals of the Chennai Open here on Thursday. (Click here for latest Tennis stories)
Wild card Ramkumar worked his way to a 3-6 6-4 6-4 win over higher-ranked Russian, who had entered the event as a Lucky Loser. He next plays world No.45 Aljaz Bedene, who defeated Luca Vanni 5-7 6-3 6-4.
The win meant that Ramkumar is now unbeaten in his last 12 matches. He had won two ITF Futures titles at the end of the 2015 season in Gwalior and Mumbai, winning five matches each in the two events.
He had shocked world number 98 Daniel Gimelo-Traver in the first round here and with win today he has entered the quarterfinals of an ATP Tour event for the first time in his career.
Ramkumar changed the complexion of the game after losing the first set with his sheer grit and doggedness. He improved as the match progressed and egged on by the fans, he managed to down a strong opponent.
'Not an easy win'
The Russian had done his homework well and did not allow Ramkumar to play on his big forehand initially. He made Ramkumar run on both the flanks, often forcing the Indian to play his shots running, without getting much time to settle or get into rhythm.
"I was going too fast. I was making him play. Got the confidence through the third set. Alexander is a great player, goes for his shots. He made me run, it was not easy but I found my way," said Ramkumar after the win.
The Russian hit an exquisite forehand service return winner in the first point of the fifth game. Ramkumar struggled with his footwork and two consecutive forehand errors cost him the game. Ramkumar had the chance to return the favour in the next game but lost four points on the trot when the Russian was down 15-40.
The lucky loser kept dictating the points with Ramkumar struggling to get his rhythm and confidence. Serving to stay in the set, Ramkumar committed another error to be down by a set point and hit a cross court backhand wide to hand Kudryavtsev the first set.
Ramkumar could not hit the ball deep, continuously finding the middle of the court from where it was hard to trouble his opponent.
Kudryavtsev was clear with his game plan, hitting everything on Ramkumar's weak backhand and his strategy paid off. The 21-year-old Indian could only keep the ball in play and could never direct the ball to where he would have wanted.
Nevertheless, Ramkumar was all pumped up, never lacking in energy but could not put his game together. The Russian kept his cool and demeanour as he went about his business calmly.
At 3-3 in the second set, the two players put on play a 23-shot rally with Ramkumar winning the point to make it deuce, hanging in for a little opening. A cheeky drop shot by Ramkumar made it third deuce point of the game. Finally Ramkumar earned a breakpoint in that game but the Russian saved it with a big serve. Another forehand error handed the Indian second breakpoint of the match and a double fault by the Russian was all the local hero needed. He was now up a break and consolidated with an easy hold for a 5-3 lead.
A flurry of unforced errors by Kudravtsev, courtesy a seemingly casual approach, handed the Indian set point but eventually the Russian held. Cheered by the home fans, Ramkumar closed the set in his favour when Kudryavtsev netted a backhand.
It was again in the seventh game when Ramkumar nosed ahead. A crushing forehand winner after a long rally sealed it for the Chennai lad. An easy hold and he was leading 5-3. He was bubbling with energy and serving bombs in the range of 200km\h.
There was no stopping him now and he closed the match easily.
Gilles Muller stunned
Earlier, Italian qualifier Thomas Fabbiano created the biggest upset of the tournament when he ousted sixth seed Gilles Muller of Luxembourg 6-4 7-5 in 77 minutes.
Playing his first match on centre court, Fabbiano gave a fine exhibition of controlled tennis. He meets third seed French Benoit Paire in the quarterfinals tomorrow.
Facing a tough rival in Lukas Rosol, ranked 55, world number 19 Paire had anxious moments throughout the match but remained focused to win 7-5 7-5.
Muller became the second seeded player to have been shown the door after seventh seed Vasek Pospisil lost to unseeded Aljaz Bedene of England on Wednesday.
Fabbiano was able to beat Muller mainly on his consistent performance while his opponent made a lot of unforced errors, especially on crucial points.
The Italian served superbly to serve out his tenth game at love to win the first set in 30 minutes.
In the second, Muller made amends and broke Fabbiano in the second game but the Italian returned the favour in the very next game. Fabbiano managed to come up with a break in the 11th game and then served out the match.