Davis Cup: India flourish on grass as Danes flounderMarch 5, 2022
Well begun, nearly done. India finished the first day of their World Group I Play-off tie against Denmark with a 2-0 lead. Ramkumar Ramanathan beat Christian Siggsgaard 6-3, 6-2 before Yuki Bhambri defeated Mikael Torpegaard 6-4, 6-4 on Friday.
Much of the build-up was focused on the grass courts at the Delhi Gymkhana Club, and how various grass experts and local gardeners had pored over each blade. The hosts had chosen the surface to exploit Denmark’s general unfamiliarity with grass and banking on the playing styles of Indians. While the Danes had sported game faces and talked about being underdogs ready to cause upsets, the writing was always on the grass.
The Indians were simply better tennis players on the day. There was an obvious gulf in talent, magnified by the surface.
As expected, Ramkumar was the main man for India. With a game tailormade for grass, he likes to serve and volley. The opening game of the tie set the tone. Ramkumar followed each serve — first or second — to the net. Meanwhile, Sigsgaard, glued to the baseline, struggled to time his returns. The Dane ventured forward once, to catch a Ramkumar drop shot. He scampered, reached the ball, couldn’t stop sliding and stumbled into the net to concede the point.
He somewhat found his footing, but lost serve at 1-2 with desperate forays to the net. And when the volleys weren’t letting him down, his service did. Sigsgaard sent down eight double faults to Ramkumar’s three.
It wasn’t that Ramkumar was impervious at the net. He shanked a few volleys and was occasionally passed by a groundstroke. But he was simply more comfortable on the surface and anticipated better than the 824-ranked Dane.
Throughout the week, Ramkumar had maintained that the conditions were “perfect” and the grass was “great.” “Stays low, it’s quick, it goes through, the slice works,” he had assessed during practice sessions.
The slice worked alright. For Denmark’s hopes of advancing, it was a death by thousand slices. When not killing off points, Ramkumar took the pace off with backhand slices.
“I love to slice and I love to come in. I served pretty well. And I made a few good first volleys during the start of the match. That just kept me going,” Ramkumar said.
Non-playing captain Rohit Rajpal discussed how the surface was matched with a suitable tactic.
“We clearly had a strategy where we worked on the courts to ensure that it plays low, and the slices move well and kick off. If you see their grips, they are way over the top, clay-court, hard-court grips. The idea was to keep it low and trouble them as much as we could.”
Unlike Ramkumar, grass-court tennis doesn’t come naturally to Yuki. It was, thus, intriguing to watch two baseliners try and adapt in real time. While Ramkumar dealt with Sigsgaard in less than an hour, the two sets between Yuki and Torpegaard nearly went 90 minutes.
The surface again played a pivotal role. After the two traded early breaks in the opening set, Torpegaard conceded his serve at 4-4 in a game that saw the 6’4 Dane repeatedly beaten by the pace and low bounce. With his opponent’s timing off, Bhambri constructed and finished points with approach shots.
The biggest server of the four on the day, Torpegaard had his moments. Bhambri’s lead in the second set was cut from 4-1 to 5-4 as the Dane went for broke. Four of Torpegaard’s six aces came in the second set, but also five of his seven double faults. Eventually, Torpegaard, who led the majority of games but couldn’t close them out, was defeated by the more consistent Bhambri, who also embraced the slice.
“I think for Ram, that style comes naturally. For me, it was bit of a strategy,” said Bhambri. “I realised that the court was playing very low. I am more of a traditional baseliner who likes to hit the ball. But I realised the slices are difficult to put away.”
Torpegaard conceded his opponent has “got a good backhand slice” and “stepped up his game when it mattered”.
“That’s what separates the good players from the great players. Countless examples out there of me being ahead in the games but he stepped up,” said Torpegaard. “It’s a very different game on here than it would have been on hard courts. I think I ran out of time towards the end. I would have liked for it to go into a third set, like the good old days.”
The reverse singles fixtures on Saturday will remain on grass and continue to be three-set matches. But they will only come into play if the Danish pair pulls off the unthinkable in doubles. As for India, Rajpal confessed that Ramkumar’s showing in singles could have put him into the running to partner Rohan Bopanna.
“We have that option looking at the way we played today,” he said.