Tag Archives: tennis

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.

Box:

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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How to… Be a tennis nut

1. Know the tennis calendar forwards and backwards. Following just Grand Slams is for wusses. You’ve got to know your nine Masters tournaments inside-out (think quick: which one is unofficially known as the fifth slam?). And then know which ATP 500 or ATP 250 tournament is taking place each week, right from Acapulco to Zagreb. (Hint: investing in an atlas might help).

2. Get intimately acquainted with Internet scoreboards and/or online feeds. If you depend on television to meet your tennis needs, you’ll never get to tennis nut territory. To follow the tournaments from Tokyoto Estoril (see above) you’ll need to a) watch choppy online feeds from said corners of the world (with Japanese/Portuguese commentary) or b) refresh the online scoreboard obsessively.

3. Reset your body clock for two-week periods during far-flung Grand Slams i.e. the Australian Open and U.S. Open. You need to be getting up at 2 a.m. to watch the five-set matches – and we’re not talking just the semis and the final either. If you’re getting enough sleep during these slams, you’re not there yet.

4. Spend far too much time on Internet forums. This is an essential and often overlooked aspect. To truly hit the zenith of tennis nut-hood, you need to be active on at least four dedicated tennis forums online, boldly defending your favourite players, trashing others, and getting down and dirty in the flame wars that result.

5. Be familiar with the names in the Top 50, or at least the Top 30 players, their quirks and their game. If your knowledge of tennis stops at ‘Nadal’ and ‘Federer’, you’re falling way short. We’re talking about knowing, for instance, that Feliciano Lopez (rank 34) is a Spaniard with pretty hair, a penchant for posing in the nude, and a surprising serve-and-volley game.

6. And finally, the true mark of a couch tennis nut is the tendency to wax eloquent on past matches/rivalries/records of the game. The further back you go and the more obscure the reference, the closer you are to attaining tennis nut nirvana. When a casual fan looks at you and goes “Who cares?” you know you’re almost there.

DIVYA KUMAR

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