Tag Archives: pete sampras

Interview with… Ramesh Krishnan

Pic: R. Raghu

Ramesh Krishnan doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t play tennis. Literally.

“I’ve been around tennis courts with a racquet in hand for as long as I can remember,” he laughs. “There was a clay court in our garden, where my father learnt to play, and I’m sure I came out there as a toddler and hit some balls!”

It came from being part of a large tennis-loving family, he says, where there was almost always a tennis game on, and never a dearth of players.

“My grandfather T.K. Ramanathan was very keen on tennis and he made sure we all played,” Ramesh recalls. “Even back in the Sixties, the ladies in our family — my aunt and my mother — used to play, and there was always someone to play with. Our whole lives revolved around a tennis court.”

Of course, it went without saying that the toddler who played in the backyard would eventually follow in the footsteps of his father, tennis legend Ramanathan Krishnan.

“It was my grandfather’s dream, and I never really gave any other career a thought,” he says simply. “By the time I was in high school, I was representing India in the Davis Cup, so my education was geared towards that. I don’t know what I would have ventured into if not tennis!”

And follow he did, chalking up a stellar career in juniors just like his father — he was ranked No. 1 in the world and won both the junior Wimbledon and French Open titles — and then building a solid career on the main tour (he was ranked as high as No. 23 in the world), featuring in some memorable matches at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and, of course, in the Davis Cup.

“The Davis Cup matches always stand out — we reached the final in 1987 and the semi-final in 1993. And, reaching the quarter-finals at the U.S. Open [1981 and 1987] and Wimbledon [1986] is something I look back fondly on,” he says. “Both the Davis Cup and Wimbledon always meant a little extra to me.”

In a career spanning three decades (1977 to 1993), he won a reputation not only for having a beautiful game, all amazing angles and volleys, but also for being a gentleman on and off the court.

“The bulk of players from India were well behaved — I think our society demands that,” he says, deflecting the compliment in his unassuming way. “You were expected to carry yourself a certain way in public.”

When it came time to retire in 1993, Ramesh was quite content to hang up his racquet , professionally speaking. It gave him more time to focus on that other core passion of his life — family.

“My children had started school and they couldn’t travel with me as much,” he says. “Suddenly I wasn’t that excited anymore about boarding a plane and travelling leaving my family behind.”

Fittingly, his family remains tennis-crazy, with both his daughters, Gayatri and Nandita, playing tennis, first in juniors’ tournaments, and now for their respective universities in the U.S.

Travelling with his daughters to juniors’ tournaments as his parents did with him decades ago, Ramesh had come full circle — and discovered it wasn’t easy. “There were times when Gayatri was playing and I knew her opponent was not being fair to her, but I had to detach myself — it’s a whole new experience as a parent,” he says ruefully. “It’s like being on the rollercoaster all over again… but, this time, I had no control over what was happening!”

Today, sitting in the garden that once housed the clay court he played on, Ramesh exudes calm contentment. His days are spent caring for the Krishnan Tennis Centre (“a place to come play tennis and get some exercise”), the Indane Gas supply service his father started in 1963 (“he played in the amateur era and needed a livelihood”) and his daughters (“helping them achieve what they want to.”)

He still plays tennis socially almost every day of the week, but says his role in the future of Indian tennis is just that of ‘cheerleader’ — “I’m happy to root for people who’re doing well,” he smiles.

Tennis has been his life and his education, and that, for Ramesh, is enough: “It gave me a chance to grow as a person. I’ve had all these amazing experiences, and I have tennis to thank for it,” he says.


Pitted against the best: I consider Bjorn Borg and Pete Sampras the most outstanding players I ever faced – Borg in the early part of my career in the 70s, and Sampras towards the end of my career in the 90s, just as he was starting out.

Toughest opponent: I always found Ivan Lendl very tough to play. His style of play just didn’t suit me – I couldn’t serve big enough to unsettle him and he was a bit too overpowering. He was a nightmare for many players to face, and I was one of them!

On gentlemanly conduct: I think it depends on your upbringing. John McEnroe was from New York and he had a little bit of New York in him. I think we in India certainly wouldn’t have looked kindly upon that kind of behaviour!


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Book Recs: Andre Agassi’s ‘Open’

This one was on my reading list for a long, long time. Not only am I a huge tennis nut in general, but I was also a huge Agassi fan back in the day. You know, when he had the long flowing locks and such. Had the poster on the wall, the works. I even stopped watching tennis for a bit in the 90s because I couldn’t take the simian Sampras’ dominance over him and the tour. It’s really quite ironical that what brought me back to tennis was the even more dominant Roger Federer… but that’s a whole other story.

Of course, there was the entire controversy and subsequent publicity over his revelation that he took crystal meth and lied to the ATP to cover it up yada yada yada. But, as a close friend and fellow tennis nut put it, when you read the book, that fact doesn’t actually cause much of an impact. It’s a minor bump in the road, at a very low point in his career, at a time when he was barely winning anything (so any argument that a lack of ban somehow took away opportunities from other non-drug-taking players is moot). What really does stick out is the raw emotionality of the book from the get go. Whether it’s about his abusive father, or about his amazingly supportive trainer Gil, the emotions are right there (and Agassi’s a very emotional guy who claims to have an incredible memory for detail) — in your face, no-holds-barred and very, very honest. That makes ‘Open’ compulsively readable — I for one read non-stop for about a day and a half, late into the night and again first thing in the morning before I finished it.

A word here about Pulitzer-winning writer J.R. Moehringer who helped him put the book together (though he declined a mention on the cover ). It is obvious, especially to a journalist who has on several occasions been called to do ‘as told to’ interviews (where the final article in meant to be entirely in the voice of the interviewee), that he has done an outstanding job.  The voice here is clearly Agassi’s — indeed the flow is so wonderful that you feel like he were talking directly to you. But it has been pieced together so very well that there is not a single dull moment or a hitch or even a shade of clumsiness in the structuring of the story.

The very openness and the way Agassi has chosen (one might almost say dared) to bare his emotions can also make it all feel a little uncomfortable at times. His resentment of Sampras is so very obvious… any compliment, if it is that, is backhanded (he envies his ‘robotic’ consistency, which doesn’t require any inspiration, for example). Unlike almost every other person mentioned in the book, there is almost nothing positive said about Sampras, a great champion, who for all intents seems like a pretty decent guy (for all that I wasn’t a fan of his). And that leaves a bit of a sour taste. Similarly, his portrayal of Brooke Shields towards the end of their marriage is coloured by disenchantment and negativity, and again, you feel like she deserved better. And the potshots he takes throughout at poor little Chang… Still, it all comes, as Agassi has said in an interview, from ‘writing in the moment’, as in, recreating his feelings at particular times in his life. Taken in that sense, it is very, very effective. The only case where Agassi has been obviously careful, where you feel more has been left out than he lets on is his relationship with Stephanie Graf (as he refers to her). The warmth, the deep regard, the affection is all there… there are just fewer details, which makes sense as she is a deeply private person.

Above everything else though — even the deep insights it gives into the ‘whirlwind’ that is the tennis tour and how exhausting it can be, the behind the scenes glimpses into locker rooms such as the incredibly sweet bonding moment between him and Marcos Baghdatis after their outstanding match at his last US Open — ‘Open’ is that rare thing; a truly inspiring book. This is a powerful read for anyone who has ever struggled with finding inspiration, anyone who has ever beaten themselves up for not being perfect. It’s all described beautifully — how Agassi internalises his father’s constant quest for tennis perfection even as it makes him hate the game, how he berates himself and can sometimes not function at all when he falls short by even by tiny amounts, and how he slowly learns to just play and ‘win ugly’ if need be, in the words of Brad Gilbert (you will like Gilbert a whole lot more after reading this book). It’s also about finding yourself, cliched as it sounds, and will resonate with anyone who has ever struggled to understand who they are.

There are few books that succeed on so many levels — as a life story and a career chart, a study of individual character and of various relationships, as emotional catharsis for the writer and inspiration for its readers. This is a book that will naturally appeal to tennis nuts like me, but also to anyone given to introspection about life, relationships and themselves.


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