Remember When India Reached the Davis Cup Finals?
Down Memory Lane
Through much of the 80s India continued to be in the prestigious Davis Cup World Group thanks to the efforts of the Amritraj brothers Vijay and Anand and Ramesh Krishnan with able support from Sashi Menon. Though they never could make it as far as the final. They they had reached it in 1974 before defaulting to South Africa, as India did not have any sporting relations with that country because of its apartheid policy they continued to be opponents to be respected.
However, when the Davis Cup campaign started in 1987 there were serious doubts whether India could last very long in the elite group. In fact for a few years before this India were eliminated in the first round, and only made it back immediately by winning the relegation play-offs. The main reason for this was that Vijay was past his best and semi-retired Anand was playing only in the doubles. Ramesh was ranked in the top 30 but other countries boasted of higher ranked players.
Indeed few gave India any chance of even getting past their first round opponents Argentina even if the tie was played at New Delhi. Argentina's challenge was spearheaded by Martin Jaite. He was a player good enough to make the French Open quarterfinals in 1985 and in due course be ranked in the top ten in 1990.
The encouragement for India was that Ramesh had entered the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 1986 but then Vijay had slipped dramatically in the rankings while he and Anand were no longer one of the leading doubles pairs in the world.
On the opening day Vijay defeated Horacio de la Pena in straight sets while Jaite after being two sets down recovered to get the better of Ramesh. But with Vijay and Anand going down in the doubles it was advantage Argentina going into the reverse singles. And India's fate seemed to have been sealed when Jaite won the first two sets against Vijay in the fourth rubber. The 33-year-old Indian fought back to take the third set but in the fourth set was match point down.
An incredible backhand half volley return saw him stave off this and Vijay won the set 8-6. That done he surged ahead in the decider which he won 6-2 to make it two matches all. It was left to Ramesh to seal the tie in India's favour and this he duly did with a straight sets victory over Horacio de la Pena.
A predictably easy 4-0 win over Israel in the next round put India quite unexpectedly in the semifinals. Here they appeared to face Mission Impossible for the opponents were Australia and the tie was to be played in Sydney. The Australian challenge would be spearheaded by Wimbledon champion Pat Cash and they had two other highly ranked players in Wally Masur and John Fitzgerald.
Few gave the Indians a chance of even winning one match. But the visitors had a stroke of good fortune when Cash suffered a leg injury on the eve of the tie and was ruled out. However Masur and Fitzgerald had the firepower to get the better of Ramesh and Vijay and Australia were expected to take the doubles.
On the opening day, India sprung a surprise by taking a 2-0 lead with Ramesh and Vijay scoring four set victories over Fitzgerald and Masur respectively. But, as expected, Australia won the doubles to keep the tie alive going into the final day. And when Fitzgerald defeated Vijay in straight sets it was 2-2.
The pressure was now on Ramesh and Masur as they squared off for the all important decisive fifth rubber. The packed crowd of about 8000 were predictably partisan but Ramesh remained phlegmatic. Serving and stroking smoothly the 26-year-old Indian who had made it to the quarterfinals of the US Open just about a month earlier overcame shaky starts in the first two sets to comfortably get the better of his Aussie rival 8-6, 8-6, 6-4 to seal a sensational triumph.
As Vjay put it succinctly in his autobiography, "against all the odds known to man a team with a 33-year-old part time actor as captain, a semi retired 35-year- old as his doubles partner and one top class singles player who was, even then, not ranked in the world's top 30 had not only reached the Davis Cup final for the third time in India's history but had beaten Australia on their own turf.'' The triumph has gained epoch-making status over the years not only because it was totally unexpected, but it is also the last time that India made it to the title clash in the Davis Cup.
The dream run finally came to an end with a formidable Sweden represented by Mats Wilander and Anders Jarryd ruthlessly demolishing India 5-0 in the final at Gothenburg but 1987 will always be remembered for one of the greatest moments in Indian tennis history.