Hard work is his only mantra

Hard work is his only mantra

Ramkumar Ramanathan’s progress has  been fuelled by consistent performances.

By the time a conversation with Ramkumar Ramanathan ends, it becomes quite clear that he lives and dies by hard work. India’s second-highest ranked singles tennis player utters that phrase at least 10 times during the talk and given how his fledgling career has taken off in the last 12 months, he has a point.

In November 2013, Ramanathan's ranking was 704. A month later, just as he was beginning to play in the qualifiers of the ATP 250 Chennai Open, it stood at 519.The spurt in rankings happened because of two back-to-back ITF Futures titles in Raipur and in Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Still, he was an unknown commodity, just a tall, wiry kid from Chennai who had a good serve. A year on though, the scenario is a bit different. 

Five Futures titles (three in Turkey, one in Spain and one in India) are in his bag besides a win over India’s No 1 player Somdev Devvarman. A ranking that stands at 227 at the moment captures the story of his progress.

"It's all down to hark work," Ramanathan says as if the trait could be bought off a shelf in a local supermarket. "I put it down to the pre-season I had before the beginning of this year and the hard work of the last 24 months has paid off. But there is still a long way to go." 

Those Futures titles apart, the high point in the season was his first-round win over Somdev at the Chennai Open after coming through the qualifying rounds, with a win over Slovakian Norbert Gombos (then ranked 197) in the final round.

Chennai does have a rich tradition of churning out tennis players and Ramanathan has followed on the same track to get into the game, after his father introduced him to the game.

"My grandparents wanted to see my dad become a tennis player but he couldn't, so my father pushed me into it," he reveals. "He took me to all the tournaments from a very young age." 

Ramanathan was four when he first took up a tennis racquet. He soon enrolled in the Muthukrishnan Memorial Club (MMC) before switching over to YMCA, a place that he still goes to, as he tries to work his way up the rankings chart.

Trying to sustain a living by just playing in the Futures is a well documented issue inside the tennis world. And Ramanathan contends that it is tough. 

"Everything is tough. But once you start playing with heart and the hard work you put in every match.... you learn. It (tennis) is an expensive sport. But you play for a goal. And I plan to play more (ATP) Challengers next year." 

That could mean losing out on the points that he has accumulated this year but he talks about the bigger picture. 

"The level you play in is more important. Playing at a higher level is more important than points," he points out. 

“The Challengers is more professional and organised better compared to the Futures.”The less glamorous side of tennis is living life on the road when you are trying to make a name for yourself but Ramanathan, who currently trains under Juan Balcells and Sergio Casal in Spain, talks about the Tour with clarity. "Most of the players know each other, we play against each other a lot and sometimes we stay together. But when you take to take to court, you play to win." 

The attention he has got this past year has landed him a place in the Bengaluru Raptors (a Champions Tennis League franchise). And it is clear that he can't wait to start learning from the likes of Venus Williams and Feliciano Lopez when the competition starts on Monday. 

“It’s going to be a great experience to be playing with them and learning from them. I am most definitely looking forward to it.”

Having been a part of a heart-breaking 2-3 Davis Cup loss to Serbia in Bangalore, Ramanathan returns to the same court trying to end up on the winning side this time.  With the year he has just had, don’t bet against it.

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