Kevin Anderson of South Africa packed his bags and left Chennai as a result of an aggravation of a left knee injury. It was a big blow to the 2016 Aircel Chennai Open as it lost its second seed, a man who was to be among the main draws here.
The world no. 12's place was taken by Russia's Alex Kudraytsev, a lucky loser. A second chance for Kudraytsev, a chance to play on Stadium Court.
He played India's Ramkumar Ramanathan, a Wild Card entrant, who was possibly thrown by the change in opponent. The Indian would have been expecting this match to be a Herculean task against the big-serving South African, but he was left with a no less daunting job of playing a lower-ranked but equally determined opponent.
Ramanathan won. That statement is of course very simple, the match was anything but. After an hour and 49 minutes, Ramanathan stood victorious, having come from a set down to win 3-6 6-4 6-4.
If indecisiveness could fuel a stadium, then Ramanathan probably supplied enough to cover each person's quota. His footwork stuttering, the local lad was like a rabbit caught in the headlights for a good set and a quarter, as Kudraytsev looked to make the most of his opportunity.
Kudraytsev had the Indian running around the court early with his decisive shot placement. Ramanathan found himself stretching constantly to retrieve the Russian's shots. Kudraytsev was targeting the forehand wing of Ramanathan in particular, the strategy paying off immensely.
The Russian secured the first break in the fifth game and went on to break again in the ninth game where Ramanathan was 40-15 up. Kudraytsev struck two brilliant shots, the first a backhand up the line winner and the second, a forehand up the line that drew the error. He converted the set point soon when Ramanathan's backhand sailed wide.
Ramanathan's serve was the only thing going for him in the first set. The length on his shots was much too short allowing Kudraytsev go step in and force the issue with his. Two pugnacious shots allowed Kudraytsev to hold to love in the fifth game in the second and it looked like we were in for a repeat of the first set.
In the sixth game, Kudravtsev had a little opening at 30-30, but Ramanathan summoned a backhand down the line winner that helped him hold. The only trouble that Kudraytsev was having until now was with a few fans who kept shouting out between his serves.
The turning point of the match then followed, the seventh game of the second set.
Kudraytsev went up 40-15 with little fuss, but Ramanathan put together a string of good points to force deuce. It was to be the first of five deuces in a game that ran for over 10 minutes. Just when Kudraytsev thought he was out, Ramanathan clutched at all his reserves and pulled of an outstanding point, defending like his life depended on it and at the end of a long rally, coming up with a superb lob that beat Kudraytsev to the back of the court.
The Russian could not believe it, but Hawk Eye confirmed it was indeed in and Ramanathan gestured to the crowd to let him hear it, wallowing in the applause. The little trouble that Kudraytsev was having with the crowd was now bigger, and as he double faulted to give the Indian the break, he spat in the direction of the East stand where seemingly, the chief offenders lay.
The crowd now behind every point, Ramanathan held to love to consolidate in the next game and soon served it out in the 10th to level things up and send the match to a decider. The momentum had swung and the Russian seemed upset at most things in the match and it took a toll on his game.
Feeling the adrenaline, Ramanathan served up a 199 km/h ace down the middle on his first service point in the third set. Both players managed to hold serve as the set went into its decisive seventh game, following the pattern of the second set.
By now, with the confidence flowing, Ramanathan had begun to run around his backhand with increasing frequency to attack with the forehand, and it was doing some serious damage.
After reaching 30-30 in this game, and forcing deuce, Ramanathan came up with an attacking rally where he hit one inside out forehand and followed it up with an inside-in forehand winner to get to break point. He got the break on the next point, sending the crowd delirious with joy.
That proved to be the death blow for Kudraytsev in this match as he could not come back from it, allowing Ramanathan to reach the quarters here for the first time.
Ramanathan said after the match, “I felt I was going for my shots too much in the first set and was missing a lot. The second set onwards I was keeping more balls in play and he was also missing a few.”
“I was trying to control my emotions and once I won the second set, I started playing much better and started taking risks, going for it on my second serve. The crowd helped me a lot come through this match”, added the 21-year-old.
Ramanathan will play last year’s runner-up, Aljaz Bedene of Great Britain, in the quarterfinals.