PARTAB RAMCHAND | 1 DECEMBER, 2017
HIGHLIGHT: Down Memory Lane
Davis Cup and Wimbledon are the two tournaments that are sacred to the Indian tennis player. In fact in the late fifties and early sixties when Ramanathan Krishnan was one of the leading players in the world Jack Kramer made him a lucrative offer to join the professional ranks. But that would mean Krishnan would not have been able to play either Davis Cup or Wimbledon and that thought was anathema to him. He didn’t take long to refuse Kramer’s offer.
Even for the tennis fan in the country it is the player’s performance in these two tournaments that holds considerable interest. Krishnan’s entry into the men’s singles semifinals in 1960 and 1961 is rightly celebrated while also remembered with affection is Vijay Amritraj making it to the quarterfinals in 1973 and 1981. Ramesh Krishnan too reached the same round in 1986. Of course Ghouse Mohammed was a pioneer of sorts having made the quarterfinals as far back as 1939.
The fact that India have made it to the Davis Cup final three times is also a matter of pride for the country. Though India first took part in the Davis Cup in 1921 it was not until the arrival of Ramanathan Krishnan on the scene that India became serious contenders. In 1956 India entered the Davis Cup inter-zone final for the first time which was but one step away from the Challenge Round as it was in those days. India again made it to the inter-zone final in 1959, 1962, 1963, 1965 and 1968 but each time they faltered at this hurdle.
However in 1966 India did make it to the Challenge Round with victories over West Germany and Brazil in the inter-zone semifinals and final respectively. The entry to the Challenge Round was made possible by a marvelous recovery by Krishnan in the decider against Thomas Koch, Brazil’s top player. With the teams 2-2 and down by two sets to one Krishnan was trailing 2-5 in the fourth set but then occurred a remarkable turnaround as Krishnan reeled off nine successive games taking the fourth set 7-5 and going ahead 4-0 in the fifth. Ultimately he won 6-2 and history was made.
Few however gave India a chance in the Challenge Round against Australia and the hosts predictably retained the Cup. However Krishnan and Jaideep Mukherjea pulled off a major upset in the doubles with a victory over Wimbledon champions Tony Roche and John Newcombe. Though Australia with Roy Emerson and Fred Stolle winning all the singles wrapped up the tie 4-1 the Indians won a lot of plaudits for a gallant display.
In 1972 the Challenge Round was abolished and by now India’s hopes rested on the shoulders of the Amritraj brothers Vijay and Anand with Krishnan as non-playing captain. In 1974 victories over Australia and the USSR placed India in the final. However with the opponents being South Africa there was never any chance of the final being played. India did not have diplomatic relations with South Africa because of that country’s apartheid policy and so had to concede the final.
Through the 70s and 80s India’s challenge petered out early in the World Group and with the Amritraj brothers clearly in the twilight of their careers in the late 80s another entry to the title round seemed unlikely. Ramesh Krishnan by now was the leading player and he and Vijay played singles while Anand figured only in the doubles. In 1987 however India against all expectations did make it to the final for a third time. They got the better of Argentina 3-2 in the first round at New Delhi. India were within a point of elimination with Vijay down match point in the fourth set against Argentina’s top player Martin Jaite in the third singles after the visitors were leading 2-1. But Vijay staved off this with a daring backhand half volley and went on to win the match in five sets. Ramesh then won the decider to put India up against Israel in the second round.
An easy 4-0 victory placed them in the semifinal against Australia at Sydney – a tough proposition. Fortune however smiled on India for Pat Cash, Australia’s leading player and the reigning Wimbledon champion had to withdraw because of injury on the eve of the tie. Australia with Wally Masur and John Fitzgerald – both ranked higher than Vijay and Ramesh – in their ranks were still favourites. India however took a 2-0 lead on the first day and even though Australia fought back to make it 2-2 it was Ramesh who emerged victorious in the decider against Masur winning in straight sets and India were in the Davis Cup final for a third time. Defeating formidable Sweden at Goteborg however was never really on the cards and the hosts romped home 5-0. However the three entries in the Davis Cup final ranks amongst the greatest achievements in the history of Indian sport.