When India Entered the Davis Cup Final - Only to Default
Down Memory Lane
Thanks chiefly to the efforts of Ramanathan Krishnan India became a tennis superpower in the 1950s and 60s, repeatedly entering the Davis Cup interzone final, one step away from the Challenge Round which in those days was equivalent to the final. India in fact did make the Challenge Round in 1966, when they went down to Australia. By the start of the 70s Krishnan had retired but the Amritraj brothers, Anand and Vijay, had come on the scene as suitable replacements and India’s challenge continued to remain strong.
In 1974 India defeated Australia 3-2 in the Eastern zone final at Calcutta to make it to the Davis Cup semifinal. The Amritraj brothers had been joined by Jasjit Singh as the second singles player with Vijay while Vijay and Anand formed the doubles combination. John Alexander won both his singles matches for Australia but with the Amritraj brothers winning the doubles and with Bob Giltinan losing both his singles India were able to squeak home.
India’s semi final opponents were USSR and this tie was played at Poona. The 1973 Wimbledon champion Alex Metreveli led the Soviet challenge and he started the proceedings with a victory over Anand. Vijay restored parity defeating Temuraz Kakulia.The doubles then was crucial and the Amritraj brothers put India ahead by winning in four sets. But the tie seemed set to go into a fifth rubber when Kakulia led Anand by two sets to one and surged ahead 5-2 in the fourth. However Anand clawed his way back, took the fourth set and then clinched the issue in India’s favour by winning the final set 6-3.
A jubilant crowd, and the Indian team, celebrated as this meant that India had entered the Davis Cup final for only the second time since the inception of the competition in 1900. Krishnan who had been the architect of the previous entry into the final eight years before was now the non- playing captain. The Indians waited with bated breath for the result of the other semifinal between Italy and South Africa. As soon as the news came through that the Italians had lost the celebrations were dampened. Because of that country’s apartheid policy India had no sporting ties with South Africa and the Indian team knew there would be tremendous political problems but as Vijay said, “with the optimism of youth we hoped that a way could be found for the final to be played.”
Interestingly, soon afterwards the Indian players were on the ATP circuit playing tournaments in Europe and found themselves in the company of their South African opponents Ray Moore, Frew McMillan and Bob Maud. Vijay and Anand were playing in Paris when they got the news that the All India Tennis Association had defaulted India and allowed South Africa to win the Cup by default – a sad way for the first nation outside the Big Four of Britain, USA, Australia and France to win the coveted trophy.
On their part Anand and Vijay were perfectly prepared to accept the Indian Government’s decision. They realised that it would be looking at the consequences from a bigger perspective. But it turned out that RK Khanna who was the AITA secretary had taken it upon himself to make the decision before any government edict was issued. This they felt was highhanded and premature.
As soon as they heard the news, the Amritraj brothers wanted to get on the phone to New Delhi. Anand eventually found a phone he could use in the press room. It was the morning before the matches had started and the place was empty. Or so Anand thought. In fact there was a Reuters reporter lurking outside and he heard every word that was said. It made a nice little story.
Anand, always temperamental, could not hide his feelings on missing out on playing a Davis Cup final and got into a big argument with Khanna. In his own words, “I yelled at Khanna. I was furious that he could make a decision like that without proper consultation with the government or ourselves.”
Anand’s remarks to Khanna were picked up off the Reuters wire and turned into blazing headlines in India and the brothers realised a little fence mending was in order. As Vijay explained, “it was not that we were insensitive to the apartheid problem. We just wanted to explore all the options including the possibility of playing at a neutral site like Singapore which the South Africans were very willing to do.’’
When they got back home Vijay and Anand gave a series of press conferences to clear up the position. It was really anger over Khanna making decisions he wasn’t qualified to make. They made it clear that they fully supported the government in any anti-apartheid stand it thought appropriate.
Heart breaking as it was for them that they came so close to playing in a Davis Cup final and could not do so, there is a happy postscript to the story involving Anand and Vijay. The two did in fact figure in a Davis Cup final 13 years later when after shocking Australia 3-2 in the semifinal at Sydney they made it to the title round where they lost to Sweden at Gothenburg. Anand and Vijay were still members of that team along with Ramesh Krishnan.