Reaching the top ten and becoming an established top player is a massive achievement in itself, but doing so while standing at 5 feet and 8 inches is an even tougher task. In this day and age, the tennis players of the ATP Tour measure up at 6 foot 10. They serve at 155mph. They can cover the court in about three crossover steps. It takes a special talent, masses of hard work and an abundance of determination to overcome such an enormous natural disadvantage. Hell, it takes a special person to even believe that they have those tools at their disposal. A special person like Ricardas Berankis.
When you look at Ricardas, well-built as he is, most will inevitably mark him down as a gritty retriever with nothing noteworthy in his game. I know I did. But then you watch him and that look of shock and realisation floods over you as you realise the potential this guy has. Again, I know the feeling. One of the many eye-catching spectacles of the Lithuanian’s game is his serve. Though inconsistent and prone to double faults thanks in a large part to his height, the manner in which he transfers his bodyweight into the serve, directing every fibre of his being into the stroke, is quite breathtaking. As a result, that tiny 5ft8 boy who looks no older than 15 is able to regularly crack down serves well over 130mph.
The rest of his game is built around his fleeting footwork and strong, versatile groundstrokes. He is categorically a baseliner, but what is most impressive about Ricardas Berankis is his resourcefulness in both offense and defence. On-court he is extremely intelligent, and though he may not be able to blast his taller and stronger opponents off the court, he takes pride in playing with his food and out-foxing them. He enjoys breaking up the rhythm of his opponents with well-timed forays to the net, and he slices as if he is Steffi Graf’s long lost child. At the risk of sounding painfully cliché, it really is one of those talents that just cannot be taught.
Things are looking mighty fine for Ricardas going into 2011. After struggling with the transition from juniors to the professional circuit, this year has marked the coming-out party for the 2007 US Open Junior champ, with his first two challenger titles, ATP quarterfinal, Grand Slam victories and an inspired Davis Cup showing the driving force behind his rise to a current career high ranking of 85. And it’s doubtful that he’ll be looking to stay there very long. He’ll undoubtedly be aiming to build on this year, to ditch the challengers and turn his attention to the ATP tour, and to continue on his rise up the rankings. Such a humble and down-to-earth guy, he has forever maintained that he has no fixed goals and simply wants to be “the best [he] can be”. Well the next few years should give us a good indication of just how great Ricardas Berankis is destined to be.