Ramkumar Ramanathan enhanced his reputation of being a passionate fighter even in defeat against a much superior Marin Cilic while Yuki Bhambri squandered six break chances to crash out of the Tata Open Maharashtra on Wednesday. Bhambri's first serve let him down as he bowed out with a 6-4 3-6 4-6 defeat against the eighth seed Pierre- Hugues Herbert in the second round.
In complete contrast, Ramkumar played with a lot of passion against the 2014 US Open champion and a Wimbledon finalist in 2017 before bowing out with a 4-6, 3-6 defeat in his second round.
Cilic served bombs, one of them at a speed of 223km, and Ramkumar struggled to cope with his power-packed game.
To his credit, 23-year-old Ramkumar did not buckle. He fought, with his heart and with a fearless approach. It was never enough to trouble a superior rival like Cilic but yet was enough to earn a respectable defeat.
There was no shame in losing since he gave his all. He did everything he could with his limited game. Ramkumar stood several feet behind the baseline initially to counter the fiery groundstrokes from Cilic but gradually grew in confidence and even got some points through serve and volley.
Ramkumar defeat meant that Indian challenge ended at the home event, which moved from Chennai to Pune.
Cilic played like a champion and lost only three points on his serve in the first set and five in the second.
The first point of the match was an ace at 216kmph from the six-feet-six inch tall Croat. He did not lose a single point on his first two service games. He, very easily, opened the court with his deep serve and out away the winners.
Ramkumar too served decent in the range of 200 but struggled to cope with feisty returns from his superior opponent. Every single point won by Ramkumar was cheered wildly by a partisan crowd.
As he failed to put back a half volley, Cilic had two break chances and he converted first with a backhand winner.
The gritty Indian sensationally broke Cilic in the ninth game in which Ramkumar found a backhand winner after a stupendous rally and Cilic hit a forehand long on the breakpoint.
However, Cilic doused any hopes of the home fans by breaking Ramkumar at love in the next game.
The Croat had no problem in getting the first break as Ramkumar double-faulted at 30-40 in the fourth. That break stood with Cilic, two-time champion in this event, and he closed the match in the ninth when Ramkumars backhand slice kissed the net.
In other matches, world number 89 Gilles Simon stunned defending champion and world number 20 Roberto Bautista Agut 6-3 7-6(5) to move to the quarterfinals.
Robin Haase came from behind to defeat Nicolas Jarry 3-6 7-6(5) 7-5 and will play Benoit Paire, who also had to fight hard before winning 4-6 7-6(4) 7-6(6) against Marton Fucsovics.
Bhambri, ranked 118, needed to play percentage tennis against a rival like Herbert, ranked 81 but struggled. His second serve hardly had any sting, making it easier for Herbert to attack.
Herbert, to his credit, after a shaky start, got better and better. He soaked in the pressure and came out strong. His body language remained strong while Bhambri could not assert himself despite being in an advantageous position in the third set.
In the second game of the decider, Herbert was down 0-40 but the Indian youngster, who has won 11 matches in a row on these courts, could not take advantage of the situation.
Herbert came out serving big and his returns too were very strong as he moved Bhambri on both sides of the court. It was the same story in the fourth game and in all, Bhambri let go of six break points.
Herbert, serving for the match, came out with an ace at 204kmph. And when he served a double fault to be 15-30, he levelled the scored with a service which read 207kmph.
That was the difference between the two players. While Herbert used his service as a big weapon, firing as many as 13 aces, Bhambri first serves deserted him. His first serve percentage read just 57 at the end of the match.