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Ram set for an Indian odyssey

Last updated on: January 02, 2008 00:54 IST

The most un-Indian Indian Rajeev Ram could end up providing the only local flavour at the Chennai Open.

While wild-card entrants Vishnu Vardhan and Prakash Amritraj fell by the wayside, the 23-year-old Ram advanced to the second round with a hard-fought 7-6 (6), 7-6 (2) win over Russia's Yuri Schukin on Tuesday.

Vardhan crashed to a 6-1, 6-2 defeat against France's Edouard Roger-Vasselin on Monday and Davis Cupper Amritraj brought the curtains down on the Indian challenge as he went down fighting 3-6, 6-4, 6-7 (8) against Alexandre Kudyravtsev in a late night match on Tuesday.

"I would be happy to (provide some cheer for Indians)," said Ram. "Also, I am playing in the doubles, so hopefully they'll have something more to look forward to."

Ram, who plays under the USA flag, equaled his best showing in an ATP tournament (round of 16) to set up a showdown with Spain's Rafael Nadal.

The top seed got the better of Frenchman Mathieu Montcourt 6-2, 6-4 earlier in the evening.

"I'm really excited about playing against Nadal," he said. "He's the first current top-10 player I'll be playing and he's as good as they come, except for maybe one man. It will be good to see how I match up to the top players."

"My serve has been pretty good this week; it's obviously a big factor in my game. I've hit a good number of aces and it will hopefully work against Nadal too," added Ram, who is looking forward to playing on the Centre Court.

Born in Denver to Indian parents, Ram said playing in Chennai was almost like "home".

"I've been to India only three times but it's great to see the support I got here."

Having taken out third seed Harel Levy of Israel in the final qualifying round, the 6'3" Ram sent down nine aces in the match that went on serve all through. While crowd favourite Carlos Moya was hogging the centre-court, Ram carved out victory on the sidelines with some family, friends and a small noisy crowd for company.

"I had put two good weeks of intense training coming here and it's helping me," explained Ram of his good start of the year. "I am not saying that I worked harder than the rest but I worked smarter this time.

"I also worked with a sports psychologist (Dr. Chris Carr) in Indianapolis. So I covered all three dimensions -- physical, technical and mental. It's amazing that sometimes unless the brain tells it your feet don't move."

Ram, who had an indifferent last year, said he is targeting entering the top-100 by the year end.

While a lot of players based in the USA like Prakash Amritraj, Somdev Dev Varman and the Uberoi sisters (Neha and Shikha) have come back to play Davis Cup and Fed Cup for India, Ram is happy to let time take its course.

"As of now, I haven't tried for the Davis Cup team. I am very proud of my rich heritage and there is always the attraction to play for India. But at the same time, I was born and raised in the US and the USTA has been very supportive of me, so I am not thinking about it right now."

Though his tennis friends joke about his Hindi, for this week, the people of Chennai would be ready to forget the USA against his name and celebrate an Indian name.

Deepti Patwardhan in Chennai