Indian tennis’ greatest laurels in the last few years have come in the doubles section. Yet, the country has had a rich history of some spectacular victories in singles which hardly gets talked about nowadays, mainly because of the dearth of quality singles players.
22-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan has ensured that will not be the case anymore. Not only has his incredible one-sided upset of the top seed Dominic Thiem at the ATP Antalya second round raised hopes of a brighter future in singles, but it has also forced us to have a look back at India’s glittering past.
Here are five unforgettable wins in singles by Indian male players that are to be treasured forever:
#5 Ramkumar Ramanathan upstages World No. 8, Dominic Thiem
The 22-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan’s mastery over the World No. 8 Dominic Thiem will go on to remain as one of the best accomplishments ever by an Indian singles player. Despite not having played on the slick grass surface since last July, the fluidity that he displayed in his 6-3, 6-2 thrashing over the 2017 French Open semi-finalist reflected his sheer self-belief.
The youngster thundered 10 aces past his much higher-ranked opponent and finished the match in style with his final ace right on match point, leaving Thiem absolutely shell-shocked. The fact that he was just a qualifier at this event gives even bigger reason to applaud his resolve and pluck.
#4 Somdev beats Del Potro in a truncated match
The biggest noise that any Indian singles player made in the last five years was when then-India No. 1 Somdev Devvarman prevailed over the World No. 5 and former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in 2014. It was the first round of the ATP Dubai and Somdev was placed at 78th in the world rankings then.
Very much an underdog going into this encounter, the Indian had lost his only other showdown with the Argentine 4-6, 4-6.
Relentlessly attacking Del Potro’s weaker backhand wing, the Indian was successful in winning the first set tie-break, 7-6(3). The match, however, could not be continued further as the towering Argentine’s wrist injury had flared up and he was unfortunately forced to retire.
Irrespective of the circumstances, Somdev’s first-ever victory over a top-5 player was a reward for years of his perseverance and determination.
#3 Ramanathan Krishnan trounces Australian Open champion, Roy Emerson
The path-breaker for Indian tennis – Ramanathan Krishnan notched up one of his and Indian tennis’ most memorable wins at the 1961 Wimbledon Championships. Krishnan wasn’t an unheralded player, though. The Indian had made quite a name for himself having reached the semi-finals on the hallowed grass lawns of SW19 the previous year and that had earned him the seventh seeding in 1961.
But the magnitude of this particular win was what stands out. He met the reigning Australian Open champion Roy Emerson – who would eventually become a 12-time Major winner – in the quarter-finals that year.
The effortless ease and sublime tennis with which he trounced the future World No. 1, 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the semi-finals for the second straight year was what caught the attention of the world.
“Surprisingly Krishnan beat Emerson in straight sets. This was one of the best matches Krishnan ever played at Wimbledon. He turned Emerson’s speed to his own advantage and directed his shots with a magical caress to those parts of the court where Emerson wasn’t,” Sify.com quoted one critic saying.
Not surprisingly, Krishnan’s success inspired a generation of tennis players from India, who carved out a niche for themselves in the sport.
#2 Leander Paes edges World No. 7 Goran Ivanisevic in Davis Cup
What could be more memorable than delivering an improbable five-set victory over one of the world’s top 10 players after coming back from two sets down at home? The star of the show was again the ever-dependable Leander Paes, who sent ripples of joy across the stadium in New Delhi when he edged the World No. 7 and two-time Wimbledon runner-up Goran Ivanisevic in the India vs Croatia tie in the first round of World Group qualifying in 1995 Davis Cup.
The gulf in rankings between Ivanisevic and the 123rd ranked Paes was a staggering 116 places, yet that did not deter the Indian. Nor could the two-set deficit throw him off the track.
Fearless as ever, he came roaring back for the sensational 6-7 (4), 4-6, 7-6 (3), 6-4, 6-1 triumph that gifted India a 3-2 victory over Croatia.
#1 Leander Paes upsets reigning Wimbledon champion, Pete Sampras
The most humongous feat ever achieved by an Indian male tennis player in singles has to be this one. Leander Paes pulled off an extraordinary upset that will remain in the annals of Indian tennis as one of its most sparkling embellishments.
Using his ‘chip and charge’ strategy to perfection, the Kolkata-born ace, then ranked 100, had the reigning Wimbledon champion and World No. 2 Pete Sampras on the ropes right from the start in the third round of the Pilot Pen International in 1998. In the end, it was a stunning 6-3, 6-4 win over the American legend.
Leander, later on, called it his ‘biggest achievement’.