Bhambri advances with a straight-set win over World No.64 Busta

“Numbers don’t really matter,” said Yuki Bhambri after beating World No.64 Pablo Carreno Busta. “And I proved that today.” If the 21-year-old had had any inkling of what was to follow on Centre Court, he might have revised his statement to “like Ramkumar showed today.”

Bhambri could have been forgiven for thinking the day was his for he had just beaten a player ranked a hundred places above him. But the 19-year-old R. Ramkumar re-wrote the script by causing the biggest upset of the Aircel Chennai Open so far.

Somdev Devvarman, World No.90 and India’s top-ranked player, was beaten 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the first round by the qualifier, ranked more than 400 places below him.

The match was supposed to be a mere formality. Ramkumar, after a remarkable qualifying campaign, had rightly basked in all glory. This was his opportunity to savour the limelight on the flood-lit centre court and, in the process, pick up some valuable lessons playing India’s best player.

But what happened was just unthinkable.

For one set, the 19-year-old was neck-to-neck with Devvarman. It was supposed to end there. Instead it stretched to the third set. In a daring display the youngster started serving-and-volleying. It worked on and off. But the attempt said something about his confidence.

“It feels great. I was so nervous,” said Ramkumar. “Somdev is a great player. But I wanted to play my best. I knew I had a chance when the match came to the third set. He made me work for every ball. It would have been difficult had it stretched any longer. But it was good to win today.”

Both the crowd and Ramkumar seemed to feed off each other. Every time he asked the crowd to roar, the cheer just got louder and louder.

“I didn’t use the crowd well,” said Devvarman. “But whether the crowd is there or not (with him) it’s very disappointing to play like this after a good off season. But the last time I lost to a qualifier here, I ended up having my best ever season. So I need to find the silver lining.”

“I should probably get an F (grade) for this.”

Earlier in the day, Bhambri, the World No.196, survived an initial barrage of winners from Busta, to win in straight sets. Significantly more powerful than the 21-year-old Indian, Busta was clearly the enforcer early on.

“It was important to stick with him initially,” said Bhambri. “I was nervous in the beginning. I didn’t know him much. It was important not to make a lot of unforced errors. As the match went I got more confident.”

Bhambri compensated for his lack of power through guile.

After landing his shots mid-court — and the ball sitting up to give the World No.64 the easy put-away — till midway through the first set, Bhambri started hitting deep and hurrying the Spaniard. After pegging him back, Bhambri used the short-angle groundstrokes to set up points.

Busta visibly tightened in the second set. His shots that had initially rocketed across the court, now started either go wide or long, or sit up.

Even the forehands — a couple of which had seemed murderous before — dropped in pace alarmingly. Those shots that were hit in desperation by Busta were neatly re-directed. He clinched the set 6-3 to wrap up the match.

The day also saw the ouster of the first seeded player in this year’s edition. Eighth seed Roberto Bautista Agut, the runner up last year, went down 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 to qualifier Alexander Kudryavtsev.

In doubles, top seeds Rohan Bopanna and Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi dumped defending champions Stanislas Wawrinka and Benoit Paire 6-4, 4-6, 11-9.

The results: First round: R. Ramkumar bt Somdev Devvarman 4-6, 6-3, 6-4; Yuki Bhambri (Ind) bt Pablo Carreno Busta (Esp) 6-4, 6-3; 7-Edouard Roger-Vasselin (Fra) bt Albert Ramos (Esp) 6-1, 6-3; Aljaz Bedene (Slo) bt Henri Laaksonen (Sui) 6-3, 5-7, 7-6 (0); Alexander Kudryavtsev (Rus) bt 8-Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 3-6, 6-3; Benjamin Becker (Ger) bt Julian Reister (Ger) 6-4, 2-1 (retd.); 6-Marcel Granollers (Esp) bt Radu Albot (Mda) 6-4, 3-6, 6-0; Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (Esp) bt Aleksandr Nedovyesov (Kaz) 7-5, 6-0.

Doubles: 1- Rohan Bopanna (Ind) & Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi (Pak) bt Stanislas Wawrinka (Sui) & Benoit Paire (Fra) 6-4, 4-6, 11-9.

More In: Tennis | Sport