sport Reviews

‘Advantage India: The Story of Indian Tennis’ review: On the line

Literary Review

Literary Review

Indian tennis is currently trapped in a vicious circle of poor results and low expectations. There isn’t a singles player, male or female, among the top 150 in the world. In the last eight years, Indians have won a grand total of two singles matches on the Grand Slam stage. The country is no longer a force to reckon with even in the Davis Cup, once a source of great national pride.

But the situation was markedly different a few decades ago. Indians frequented the business end of tournaments, won titles, especially in doubles, and made their presence felt among the best in the sport by reaching the final of Davis Cup thrice.

First champion

It is this history that Anindya Dutta seeks to chronicle in Advantage India: The Story of Indian Tennis , a much-needed addition to a rather empty cupboard of books written on the premier racquet sport.

Tennis, like cricket, was bequeathed to the sub-continental elite by imperial Britain. Dutta begins his narration by describing the “carnival-like atmosphere” that heralded the inaugural Punjab Lawn Tennis Championships in Lahore in 1885. Trevor Douglas David Berrington, a 26-year-old civil servant, became pre-independence India’s first tennis champion.

The book then paints vivid portraits of Mohammed Sleem, the first native Indian to win a major tennis tournament in India (1915, Lahore), Sydney Montague Jacob, a Grand Slam singles semifinalist at the 1925 French Championship, a first for someone representing India, and Ghaus Mohammad Khan, the most famous Indian player around the time of World War II.

A team with Sleem and Sydney Jacob even reached the semifinals of the Davis Cup in 1921 and tales of their frequent run-ins with France’s popular ‘Four Musketeers’ (Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon, Henri Cochet and Rene Lacoste) bring to life a past not many know.

The post-Independence descriptions centre around the legendary Ramanathan Krishnan, Premjit Lall, Jaideep Mukherjea and Naresh Kumar. The wry humourist and fantastic raconteur in Kumar come alive in these pages, so does the sharp, almost matter-of-fact personality of Krishnan. Anyone who has conversed with the duo, in their nineties and eighties respectively now, will attest to this.

Star gallery

There isn’t much that is revelatory or eye-popping in the sections dealing with the Amritraj brothers, Ramesh Krishnan, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza, for their careers have mostly played out in front of the public eye.

But one area where Dutta could have made a real difference, but inexplicably doesn’t, is in detailing at length India’s withdrawal from the 1974 Davis Cup final against South Africa on account of the latter’s apartheid policies.

A monumental and historic dissent, which displayed India’s moral courage but at the same time might have contributed to setting the sport back in the country, deserved more than just a few paragraphs.

But for that, and a few factual errors and odd juxtapositions, the book is a creditable attempt at documenting Indian tennis’ fine past. It is by no means definitive, but can surely spur further retellings.

It ends on a hopeful note, of India unearthing a Major singles champion in the near future. It sounds outlandish, considering the current state of the sport. But the successful dare to dream, something Dutta has also done with the book.

Advantage India: The Story of Indian Tennis ; Anindya Dutta, Westland Sport, ₹599.

sudarshan.narayanan@thehindu.co.in


Our code of editorial values

Related Topics
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | May 14, 2022 8:04:35 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/advantage-india-the-story-of-indian-tennis-review-on-the-line/article37975281.ece