Ramkumar Ramanathan smartly altered his tactics to tame seasoned Marcel Granollers in a tough opening round match after Saketh Myneni pulled out of the Tata Open Maharashtra due to a foot injury here on Tuesday.
It was Ramkumar's first victory over Granollers, who once figured in top-20 and came into this contest with a 2-0 head-to-head record.
From the beginning, Ramkumar, ranked 132, opted for serve and volley tactics but it was Granollers who executed it better throughout.
Realising that it was not working for him, Ramkumar chose to stay on the baseline, remaining strong on his serve against his opponent, ranked 36 places above him.
The strategy worked and handed Ramkumar a hard-fought 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 win, his first in the main draw of an ATP World Tour event in three months. The last time he won a match at this level was during the ATP Shenzen Open in September 2018.
The 24-year-old Indian fired nine aces in the one-hour and 57-minute match. He will next play fourth seed and world number 45 Malek Jaziri from Tunisia.
Myneni, who entered the main draw after two gruelling qualifying matches, withdrew due to a left foot injury.
"Since Monday morning, it was painful and I could not recover in time for the match. Hopefully it will be good in few days as this is just the beginning of the season," Myneni said and clarified that he did not sustain the injury during his second qualifying round.
Ivo Karlovic got the better of Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-4, 7-5. The match between one of the youngest players and the oldest at the event lasted for an hour and 14 minutes where the 39-year old Croatian hit 13 aces against the 18-year old qualifier from Canada.
Thiago Monteiro, who came in place of Myneni, lost 6-7(5), 3-6 to fifth seed from France Benoit Paire.
Meanwhile, the top-seeded pair of Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan outclassed US Open semifinalists Radu Albot and Malek Jaziri 6-1, 6-2 in just 50 minutes.
They will now fight it out with Leander Paes and Miguel Angel Reyes-Varela, who got the better of David Marrero and Hans Podlipnik-Castillo 6-3, 6-4 in 61 minutes.
After losing the first game of the match, Ramkumar found a sensational backhand passing winner, running backwards, to earn two break opportunities and broke back when Granollers netted a backhand slice.
Another break of serve followed as Ramkumar set up the points but execution remained a problem.
Granollers was pretty sure with his plan, which was to hit deep, keep Ramkumar behind the baseline and then drop easy volley winners.
It worked quite effectively as rarely Ramkumar could find the passing winners in the first set.
Ramkumar though started to serve better and better as the match progressed, serving out fifth and ninth games at love.
The break was still with the Spaniard, who claimed the set with an easy hold in the 10th game.
Ramkumar kept serving big, making returns very difficult for the Spaniard to remain in the match. He lost very few points on his serve in the second set.
However, he could not create opportunities to break away and it remained on serve till ninth game.
The pressure was on Granollers as he served to stay in the set. He went with serve and volley tactics but Ramkumar this time returned extremely well.
Ramkumar began with a forehand winner on the left side of the Spaniard, then hammered a backhand passing winner to go up 40-15 and finally nailed the set by blasting another forehand winner in the open court.
Riding on the momentum, a fired up Ramkumar kept a strong control over the contest, pulling away 4-1 with a break in the fourth game.
Two double faults in the seventh game threatened to negate the good work but backed by loud cheers from the crowd, Ramkumar managed to hold for a 5-2 lead.
Serving for the match, Ramkumar began with a double fault but sealed it when Granollers could not touch a fierce return.