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RAMKUMAR RAMANATHAN AND THE MEANING OF MARGINS

Saqib Ali

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Matt Zemek

Precarious. The word aptly describes the nature of a tennis player’s career — for the elites, yes, but far more profoundly at the lower tiers of the ATP Tour. Ramkumar Ramanathan lives in the middle of that world, trying to solidify his ranking, trying to cement his place among other professionals, trying to gain a foothold which translates into major-tournament main draws and other steps up the ladder.

Ramanathan didn’t win the ATP 250 title in Newport, Rhode Island, on Sunday afternoon. Steve Johnson fended him off in three competitive sets to lift the trophy at the Dell Technologies Open. Nevertheless, Ramanathan carried the banner for Indian tennis with distinction, picking up a chunk of rankings points which will propel him closer to the top 100 (he was 161 entering the week). The 23-year-old’s career remains perched on a thin and delicate branch, but his tennis journey feels a little less precarious than it did at the start of the week.

This run to the Newport final offers considerable cause for hope.

After defeating Tim Smyczek on Saturday in the Newport semifinals, Ramanathan addressed a group of reporters. He reflected on his highly encouraging week in New England:

“I’d like to thank Emilio (Sanchez) and the Sanchez-Casal (Tennis Academy),” Ramanathan said. “All the Indian players — Leander (Paes) has been a really great guide for me. He has always been there for me. It means a lot what they are doing for me. I will keep going.”

“It (a first ATP final) means a lot to me,” Ramanathan continued. He then spoke about the precarious nature of grass tennis, which is so much like his young career and the coin-flip nature of some of his results this year, many of which have been very close.

“On grass, anything can happen, a few points here and there,” he said. “I felt very composed. There’s always pressure and think I handled it well. I was fighting for every point. Coming into this week I wanted to focus on my serve and play the way I wanted to play. I think I did that well.”

Saqib Ali of Tennis With An Accent asked Ramanathan what changed from the United Kingdom (European) part of the grass season to Newport on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. This was Ramanathan’s response:

“It’s always good to keep winning matches — I have been working on what I’ve been missing,” he said. “I’ve been taking notes. Emilio and all the coaches in Sanchez-Casal have been giving me confidence and saying you can do it — it has given me belief.”

Ramanathan put himself on the right side of the margins this week, often enough to bring him within one set of a first ATP title. He didn’t win that set, but the reality of coming close should add to his storehouse of resources. Ramanathan’s ranking has never been high enough to earn main-draw entry into a major tournament. He is still trying to hunt down that first main-draw appearance, which — given the escalation in prize money at all four majors, especially the 2018 U.S. Open — would be an enormous boost to his financial base.

It is instructive that Ramanathan spoke about the need to work on what he has been missing. Knowing what you DON’T KNOW is the sign of wisdom and an indicator that a young athlete is aware of the need to improve on many levels. A few levels of improvement were evident in Ramanathan’s game this past week in Newport. The margins remained close, but he handled them better than he did several weeks ago on the other side of the pond. If Ramanathan can continue to master the very small margins of tennis — but this time on hardcourts and not grass — his already-productive summer could become even more memorable.

The life of a tennis player is constantly precarious. Ramkumar Ramanathan was able to live with the ups and downs of matches in Newport. Now the tour will ask him to do so in other locations. For his sake and the sake of Indian tennis fans, what happens at the Tennis Hall of Fame will hopefully not stay there… and instead travel throughout the North American continent in the coming weeks.

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