© Ramkumar Ramanathan

Ramkumar Ramanathan, with 1998 Newport champion Leander Paes, is into his first ATP World Tour semi-final at the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open.

Ramanathan Breaking New Ground With Childhood Icon Alongside

Ramanathan will try to reach his first tour-level final on Saturday

When Ramkumar Ramanathan was young, he was like many children from India. He would visit the Chennai Open — now the Tata Open Maharashtra, held in Pune — to watch some of his country’s national heroes, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, for example.

It was always a fun experience to watch Paes, who captured the title in Chennai six times. Ramanathan took a picture with Bhupathi at the tournament nearly 20 years ago, a memento he keeps on his phone today.

Bhupathi Ramanathan
That young boy in Chennai would have never guessed who was in the players’ area to congratulate him after the 23-year-old World No. 161 defeated Canadian Vasek Pospisil on Thursday at the Dell Technologies Hall of Fame Open to reach his first ATP World Tour semi-final. After making the minute-long walk from Bill Talbert Stadium Court, there was Paes, who was waiting to compete on that same court next.

“He said 'Well done and keep your chin up and keep going',” Ramanathan told ATPWorldTour.com. “He’s always giving me confidence on and off the court. We go out, and there’s always a talk about tennis, stuff outside tennis. You feel comfortable, that’s what you want off court. You don’t want to think about matches and he’s really good at that.”

In fact, Paes and Ramanathan have spent plenty of time together while in Newport, whether at the International Tennis Hall of Fame, or off the court. In both cases, Ramanathan — once a young boy who dreamt of meeting the Indian star — is benefitting from the mentorship of one of his country’s tennis icons.

“It’s an amazing feeling,” Ramanathan told ATPWorldTour.com. “I never thought this would happen, but I just kept working hard and just kept pushing myself through the tough times and just kept believing in myself and that’s what’s gotten me to spend time with all the guys like Leander and all the top players. I saw them on TV playing Grand Slams and stuff and now I’m with them, so it’s a good feeling.”

Ramanathan is coached by Emilio Sanchez and trains out of the Sanchez-Casal Tennis Academy in Barcelona. But with them not being on-site this week, Paes and his coach, Mark Wirth, have been happy to help out.

“I’m really proud of Ram because he works very hard. He’s got a big game. He’s got a lot of skills,” Paes said. “For me, it’s just about mentoring him and simplifying his tennis.”

Ramanathan arrived in Rhode Island having lost five consecutive matches at all levels. But Paes is not surprised by his compatriot’s performance.

“I’ve seen that he’s had a lot of tough matches. He’s lost some really close matches, played some tough opponents and when we came here to Newport, I saw he had a great chance in the draw. It was just a matter of simplifying a few things in his game to maximise his talent,” Paes said. “I’m really proud of him. I always choose to give encouragement through positivity. Everybody’s out here with such high-quality tennis, such physicality. The margins between winning or losing are so small. It could just be one break point, it could be one shot in one point, especially on the grass here in Newport.”

The rising Indian is looking to make his mark on the grass 20 years after Paes earned his lone ATP World Tour singles title in Newport. He’s certainly off to a good start, and will play another first-time semi-finalist, Tim Smyczek, for a spot in Sunday’s championship match.

“I’m very happy for the win,” Ramanathan said. “I just have to keep going match by match and keep trying for every point.”

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