A similar article appeared in Kridangan in September 2013 and this one is an updated version for interested readers. Like many other sports, tennis was another gift to the world from British. Army officers and civilians in India played tennis as pastime. Soon, there were competitive tournaments for wider participation. But most such tournaments were won by British nationals, until an Indian, Mohd. Saleem of Lahore broke the stranglehold in 1915. Saleem was so good that he held Punjab Championship for eight successive years from 1919 to 1926 and provided a great inspiration to several Indian players, who were soon drawn to competitive tennis.
India made its maiden entry in Davis Cup in 1921, represented by Mohd. Saleem, SM Jacob, LS Deane and AA Fayzee. After Second World War, All India Lawn Tennis Association, AILTA, decided to organize national tournaments on Grass and Hard Courts. The first Grass Court National Championship was held at Calcutta in 1946, where Sumant Misra emerged as the winner. In the fifties, Indian tennis fans were witness to the emergence of two mercurial players; Ramanathan Krishnan and Dilip Bose. Krishnan won the Grass court tournament as a 16-year old and then went on to win the 1954 boys championship at Wimbledon. Krishnan kept improving his game and as a seventh seed in Wimbledon 1960, he reached the semifinals, where he lost to eventual champion Neale Fraser. In 1961 too, Krishnan reached the semifinals, when he defeated Roy Emerson, the Wimbledon champion in 1964 and 1965. However Krishnan lost the semifinals to Rod Laver, who won that year’s champion. Krishnan’s artistic performance hoisted him as fourth seed in Wimbledon 1962, but an ankle injury made him withdraw from the tournament.
In the sixties and much of the seventies, Ramanathan Krishnan, Jaideep Mukherjee, Premjit Lal and SP Misra dominated Indian tennis. They consistently performed well in Davis Cup and other international matches. Lal and Mukherjee won National and Asian Doubles on four occasions. In 1966, Krishnan, Lal and Mukherjee helped India reach the Davis Cup Final but the team lost to Australia.
In seventies, Vijay Amritraj appeared on the tennis scene and with his brother Anand, Shashi Menon and Jasjit Singh, Vijay provided great strength to Indian tennis. Such efforts led India to their second entry in Davis Cup Final but political reasons prevented India from playing against South Africa. Vijay Amritraj kept his game on an upper keel by playing several Grand Slam tournaments. Although, Vijay couldn’t win any championship, he advanced to third and fourth rounds many times, and even made it to the quarterfinals of US open in 1973 and 1981.
After Vijay, Ramanathan Krishnan’s son, Ramesh picked up the baton in eighties. Ramesh had already proven his worth by winning the Boy’s Titles in French and Wimbledon tournaments in 1979. As a tennis-pro, Ramesh foxed many of his opponents with touch artistry, anticipation and delicate placements. To some extent, his style compensated for his notably poor service. He reached the US open quarterfinals in 1981 and 1987 and also entered Wimbledon quarterfinals in 1986. Ramesh was a key member of the Indian team, which reached the Davis Cup final for the third time in 1987. But India lost to Sweden.
The nineties belonged to Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi. Like Ramesh, Leander Paes also won the Junior Wimbledon title and Boys title at US Open. Paes is known for his fine performances in Davis Cup and Olympic games for India. Winning the Bronze medal in 1996 Atlanta Olympics, Paes is perhaps the only player in the world to represent his country in seven consecutive Olympic Games from 1992 to 2016. Until 1999, he was the top doubles player in the world partnering with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi. After their infamous split, Paes has continued to win many Grand Slam titles with different partners in Men’s and Mixed doubles tournaments. In 26 years of his career as doubles player Paes have partnered with more than 100 players from across the world.
In women’s category, emergence of Sania Mirza brought a whip of fresh air to Indian tennis some years ago. For a few seasons, she managed to deliver commendable performances, both at national and international levels. But injuries halted her success in singles. These days, Sania is the world’s no.1 player in women’s doubles. Like Paes and Bhupathi, Sania has played with different partners. In the Men’s category, the only name today is Somdev Devvarman, who at 31 years, he can no longer be considered young. 22-year old Ramakumar Ramanathan is another promise for future but he is still world no.206 and has a long way to go. Rohan Bopana after some initial promise has also modeled his game on the lines of a double’s player. Sanam singh and Yuki Bhambri are the only other young tennis players in India and since they lack direction and guidance to play singles, they have also switched to playing doubles for financial accrual from the game.