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Vol. XXXI No. 5, June 16-31, 2021

The pinnacle for an Indian Tennis player

by Partab Ramchand

July marks exactly 60 years since Ramanathan Krishnan last made it to the men’s singles semifinals at Wimbledon. Since then only Vijay Amritraj (twice) and Ramesh Krishnan have made it to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. So it remains very much the pinnacle of achievement for an Indian tennis player.

ramanadhan-krishnan

Exactly 60 years ago Ramanathan Krishnan entered the men’s singles semifinal for a second successive year at Wimbledon. It remains the benchmark and though Vijay Amritraj (in 1973 and 1981) and Ramesh Krishnan (1986) made it to the quarterfinals no Indian player has emulated the pioneering great’s feat.

In 1961 Krishnan was acknowledged to be one of the finest players in the game. Besides being a semifinalist at Wimbledon in 1960 he had guided India to the Davis Cup inter-zone final in 1956 and 1959. For the second successive year he was seeded No 7 at Wimbledon. He had a smooth start getting the better of Frenchman Francois Jauffret and Marty Reissen of the USA in the first two rounds in straight sets. He had a tougher time in the third round before getting the better of Italy’s O Sirola in four sets and then took his appointed place in the quarterfinals defeating Antonio Palafox of Mexico also in four sets.

This brought Krishnan face to face with Roy Emerson of Australia, the No 4 seed. The fleet footed Aussie had been in splendid form having dropped only one set in four matches till then and was installed the favourite. But the skilful Indian could do little wrong on this day and wrapped up the match in straight sets 6-1, 6-4, 6-4. Historian Duncan Macaulay noted: “Most surprisingly Krishnan beat Emerson with ease. This was one of best matches Krishnan ever played at Wimbledon. He turned Emerson’s speed to his own advantage and directed his shots with a magical caress to those parts of the court where Emerson wasn’t.” What a quaint description of Krishnan the touch artist? Little wonder that he was hailed by the British press as “Ranji with a racket”.

Predictably excitement in India was at fever pitch. Could Krishnan better his achievement of the previous year and enter the final or even win the title? But his challenge came to an anti climactic end with another Australian the second seeded Rod Laver getting the better of him 6-2, 8-6, 6-2. Laver one of the all time greats was by this time approaching his peak and his devastating service, smashing and volleying were altogether too much for the more artistic but softer game of Krishnan.

Krishnan appeared to have a realistic chance of emulating the feat the following year. He was seeded No 4 just behind the three Australians Laver, Emerson and Neale Fraser the 1960 champion, confirming his rising stature in the game. Unfortunately he was forced to default to John Fraser, brother of Neale in the third round because of an ankle injury. As luck would have it John Fraser made it to the semifinals where he went down to unseeded Martin Mulligan. Had everything gone his way it was on the cards that Krishnan would have defeated Mullligan and got to the final which was again won by Laver. But that was not to be.

Krishnan never made a serious challenge thereafter. He lost to Emerson in the fourth round in 1963 in straight sets when he was unseeded. His compatriot Jaideep Mukherjea made it to the fourth round on four occasions – 1963, 1964, 1966 and 1973. But it was only Vijay Amritraj and Ramesh Krishnan who came closest to emulating Krishnan’s feat.

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