“We all called him the ‘father of professional tennis’.” This is how Ramanathan Krishnan began, slipping into a mood of nostalgia of those halcyon days when Jack Kramer was the ‘King’.
John Albert Kramer, the founder of ATP, passed away on Saturday when the U.S. Open was entering the climactic stages at Flushing Meadows.
Krishnan recalled how Kramer fought establishments of tennis in Australia, England and several countries for years to give professional tennis a status and an identity. His persistence and patience were rewarded eventually when the distinction between the professional and amateur disappeared in 1968.
“This was a historic moment,” in the life of Jack Kramer, Krishnan, said.
“When Jack Kramer came to Wimbledon in 1946, he suffered from blisters in the foot and lost in the semi-finals. But in the next year he came back and won the title without losing a set. The English press hailed Kramer as a maestro and headlined his achievement as “a machine called Kramer.”
As the father of professional tennis, Kramer paved the way for a lucrative career in the world of tennis to such stars as Frank Sedgman, Lew Hoad, Ken Rosewall and several others.
Krishnan was one among the top players who attracted Jack Kramer in the late Fifties. “Kramer offered me a three-year contract for $150,000 in 1959. But I could not accept that because it prohibited me from playing Davis Cup and Wimbledon. Since I was keen in playing in both (Davis Cup and Wimbledon), I did not take it up,” Krishnan said.
Krishnan portrayed Kramer as a great human being. He recalled an instance narrated to him by his son, Ramesh. “When Frank Sedgman, turned 80, Kramer, who was confined to wheel chair at that point, endured all the trouble and pain and flew from Los Angeles to Melbourne to be with the Aussie icon on that birthday. That’s how he cared for fellow professionals who all lived like family.”
“The Kramer circus,” as the professional group was called, travelled across the globe and even played in Chennai in 1960. It is a pity that Kramer, who played in Calcutta a couple of years earlier, did not come to Chennai (Madras) when the stalwarts of the Kramer team played at the Egmore Stadium courts.
The life and times of Jack Kramer represent an era that sowed the seeds of transition and eventual elimination of the line between professionals and amateurs. Krishnan concluded with a tinge of emotion, “He was a great player, a critic, commentator, and above all, a wonderful human being who cared for fellow players. Open Tennis, as we see today, is the legacy of the great Jack.”