Hailing from Kolkata, a hub of Nationalist organisations in the pre-Independence era, former Davis Cup captain Jaidip Mukerjea, great grandson of well-known freedom fighter Chittaranjan Das, gets a thrill watching the National flag flying high.
Leander Paes, also raised in Kolkata, wears his patriotism on his sleeve.
When the two great players, separated by 30-odd years, were honoured with the Davis Cup Commitment Award by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) before the third rubber of the India-Korea tie at the R.K. Khanna Stadium here on Saturday, they could not help sharing their experience of playing for the country.
Mukerjea, who was part of the Indian team that made it to the Davis Cup final in 1966, recalled his marathon stint as an active player and a non-playing captain.
“It was a long journey. I started the Davis Cup career at the age of 18. We had a very great moment — the Davis Cup final in 1966 which was a fantastic effort. I won the doubles with Ramanathan Krishnan; I cannot forget that,” he said.
“Davis Cup was very important to us. There was no ATP Tour. Davis Cup was the ultimate, and India always did well because we had great team spirit. Krishnan, Premjit (Lall) and myself — though we were rivals, we were friends.”
The 70-year-old, who was proud to be selected for the ITF award, was pained to see the current crisis in Indian tennis.
“Unfortunately today’s Indian tennis hurts me a bit. If the settlement (between players and administrators) had come earlier, we would not have been in this situation today. We would have been sitting 2-1 up after winning this match. I hope it works out well.”
Mukerjea recalled his association with former teammate Paes and paid tribute to the multiple Grand Slam winner. “I was the captain and I was the one who brought Mahesh and Leander together. I am very happy about it.
“Nice to see him (Paes) play fantastically at this age. Not only does he play well, he is giving a lot of encouragement to the youngsters. He is a true fighter and a team man.”
For Paes, in his 24th year in Davis Cup, the ITF honour came on a perfect day. “I am very happy to get the award the day I won the (doubles) match (against Korea),” said Paes.