P.R. Dhamodharan recalls the excitement that gripped the city when the historic Davis Cup east-zone quarter final between India and Korea was played here
On December 9, 1977 a report in the Coimbatore edition of The Hindu read, “This textile town of Tamil Nadu has gained a tennis atmosphere which will be heightened as the Davis Cup East-Zone quarter final between the two countries starts on December 11”. The two countries were India and Korea and the match was held right here.
P.R. Dhamodharan, one of the founding Vice Presidents of the Coimbatore District Tennis Association helped in organising the first and only Davis Cup that was held in the city. “One of the first requirements to host a Davis Cup in a city is a five-star hotel. And, of course, in 1977, our city did not have one,” says Dhamodharan.
So, the six visitors from the Korean team – the four players, their coach and the non-playing captain were put up at the Coimbatore Club. The Indian team – the Amritraj brothers – Vijay and Anand were hosted by members of the Coimbatore District Tennis Association, while Sashi Menon stayed at the Agricultural University Guest House.
A tournament of such scale required two practice courts besides the main court. So, the ideal place was the Police Recruitment School. A new clay court was built there, just for these matches. And the police officials were more than helpful. The court in the Coimbatore Cosmopolitan Club was used as the practice court. “I was in charge of taking care of the Korean team. They were not very happy with the food. They wanted rice. So, I got idlis and dosas sent over from my house to the Club. After that, they regularly came over to my house for dinner to have dosas! When they left, they even presented my daughter a tennis racquet,” he says
On the second day of the tournament, Vijay Amritraj walked around the court offering his racquet up for sale. He sold the Imported Prince racquet to G. Varadaraj for Rs. 5,000. This was the time when cyclones had hit villages in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu and this money was used towards the Prime Minister's Flood Relief Fund. The Indian team won the match and proceeded to the semi-finals. “The court was packed on all days,” recalls Dhamodharan.
“The Davis Cup was the result of the vision and thinking of Rama Ranganathan, the founder of the Perks Institutions. He was the founding Secretary of the Coimbatore District Tennis Association. Tennis became a really popular and celebrated sport here around the 1950s,” says Dhamodharan. In 1952, Rama Ranganthan returned from the U.K. and wanted a venue to play tennis in. That is when he built a court behind his house. It now serves as the Perks Complex.
“Back then, tennis was considered a game for just the elderly,” he says. But by late 1950s, there was a change in scene with local tournaments and league matches between the various clubs. Since there were very few women taking part, there were no separate matches for women. They competed with the men.
The R.S. Puram Club, the D.P.F Club, the Crimson Club and the Subbaiah Foundry Club arranged for All India Tennis Coach Noor Mohammed to come and train some of the boys and girls. The coaching programme was held for three months. Later, Noor was persuaded to stay on and he continued training children. Exhibition matches were organised. “In one such game, American Tennis star Budge Patty competed against my brother R. Ranganathan,” he says.
It was in 1966 that the Coimbatore District Tennis Association was formed. “It was the brainchild of Rama Ranganthan,” says Dhamodharan.
K. Srinivasan was the President. By late 1970s and early 1980s, there were many youngsters from the city taking part in national and International level matches. “My daughter, Vidya Sharath Ram played in the Wimbledon and the U.S. Open as a Junior,” he says.
Even till his last days, Rama Ranganathan would watch his friends play. He would record all the matches in a diary. “He was indeed the father of tennis in Coimbatore,” says Dhamodharan.
P.R.Dhamodharan Born in 1936, he was one of the founding vice-presidents of the Coimbatore District Tennis Association. He started playing tennis at a young age. Seventy seven years old now, he still plays the game with his daughter at the Perks Complex every morning.
A 24-hour non-stop tennis game for people of all ages organised by Rama Ranganathan in 1966. I got a frantic call from him asking my brother and I to go the court at 2 a.m, as there was nobody on the court. And, we did.
Keywords: Davis Cup