Not only on the tennis court, Vijay Amritraj’s incredible energy and charisma is evident off it too, writes K. Jeshi
Applause, laughter and positive energy filled the air. And, Vijay Amritraj was smiling. “You are so positive, not just good looking but talented, too. India is in safe hands with you,” he said to the students at GRD School of Commerce and International Business, who were in full attendance to hear the tennis legend share his experiences with them.
“I left Wimbledon in 1990, after 25 years of tennis. I needed to move on and chose to play in the world of make believe with television,” he said. Vijay had a brief fling with acting when he appeared with Roger Moore in a James Bond film and in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. “I died in all my films, so I thought may be I should do something else,” he joked. So, he became a Wimbledon commentator.
And then, a messenger of peace to the U.N. “I met my icons, Muhammed Ali, Nelson Mandela and, Pope John Paul who gave me goose bump moments. Such personalities inspire you to be a better person,” he told the students. And, he set up the charity ‘The Vijay Amritraj Foundation’.
His favourite moment in life? “In 1985 when India played against Sweden in Bangalore. I was sitting with my three-year-old son Prakash and he was sweeping the ground with the racket. Someone took a photograph and it appeared the following day in newspapers with a caption ‘Will Prakash ever play Davis Cup for India?’, 20 years later, he led India,” fondly recalled Vijay. His sons, Prakash and Vikram, are his best friends. “Every challenge is an opportunity and pressure is a privilege” said Vijay, “Not necessarily in sports, in anything you do, even in relationships.”
Vijay helped India reach the Davis Cup final in 1974 and in 1987. A do-or-die five set epic win over Martin Jaite of Argentina was the highlight of India’s run to the final in 1987. “I was 35 years, lost 11 pounds and competing against a healthy 21-year-old. Doctors urged me not to play as I had stretched myself too far. I told them, keep oxygen and an ambulance ready. The only way I would leave the court would be on a stretcher, I told them. I used the opportunity to do the impossible,” he said.
Vijay moved easily, joked and interacted with the students and patiently answered all their questions. He defined success for them as ‘the feeling you get when you achieve something you believe in’. “Be agile and adapt to circumstances. You need positive energy to beat the impossible,” he advised. When asked what he’d never want to do, he responded with his flashing smile, “I truly never want to hurt anyone.”
Vijay Amritraj spoke of Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe as examples of hard work and talent respectively. “Ivan put in 10 hours of practice to make up for the lack of talent and McEnroe put in just one hour. And, both were champions. Hard work will overcome less talent,” was his message.
On being the first Indian to play at the Grand Prix in 1973, he said, “It was a great day. Indira Gandhi wrote a letter to my mom and I saying nice things.”
Fame is a funny thing, said Vijay. And, about taking risks he said, “My second son wanted to pursue a career in music. Was it risky? Absolutely. But he has performed in clubs in the U.S., looks fantastic, writes his songs and is coming up with his second album. Take the risk with a safety net, but do it,” he urged the young audience. “Deal with failure and the fear of it. There is absolutely no fear in failure.”
Speaking of India’s Olympic prospects, he said “The Chinese and Japanese prepare for the next quarter century. We are happy to prepare for the next quarter. Sports are a huge risk, the chance of failure is 95 per cent, but it’s time we looked at it as business and addressed it at a professional level,” he said. His biggest regret? “I could have won Wimbledon once”, smiled Vijay. He lost 5–7 in the fifth set to the eventual champion Jan Kodes.
Vijay Amritraj had pinned the national flag onto his shirt. “I always do. My national flag and the national anthem gives me goose bump moments,” he said.