No Boundaries Tennis

Father, son and the beautiful game

There is an antique aura about the place, as if the whole environment was plucked out from somewhere in the past and then reinstated suddenly even as the world elsewhere moved at its normal pace.

And the black Ambassador parked outside the main entrance to the house, with a reedy thin driver standing hands folded in front of the garage which conceals from view a 1962 Merc, only enhances the illusion, although given the owner’s name and accomplishments, it might be a heritage monument sometime in the future.

What is more, once inside, there is an old world sense of camaraderie and peace as Ramanathan Krishnan and his son Ramesh step out to greet me.

Although it is a very busy day at work for both of them — they run a gas agency and demonetisation has’nt helped —they are extremely polite and calm.

Around this time 50 years ago, Ramesh was four years old and his father was battling his way out of a long injury layoff. And this correspondent’s visit was to mentally re-enact one of the greatest moments of the senior Krishnan’s career.

“Looking back it feels good,” says Krishnan. “I practised a lot during my [rehabilitation]. I hit a lot of balls with Rabi Venkatesan [a Davis Cupper himself and a well known figure in the local tennis community].

Coming back from a long absence because of injury, not much was expected of Krishnan in the inter-zonal Davis Cup final against Brazil at Calcutta. But after beating Jose Mandarino on the opening day and then playing with Jaideep Mukherjea and outlasting Thomas Koch and Mandarino in the doubles rubber the next day, Krishnan was expected to get past Koch on the final day.

“I enjoy playing at Calcutta where everybody has been nice to me and the crowds were knowledgeable,” says Krishnan.

If he was no world beater, Koch was no pushover either. And after Mandarino won a marathon against Mukherjea, everything came down to Koch and Krishnan in the deciding fifth rubber.

“The expectations were high [on December 6, 1966] and Koch played really well,” says Krish, no matter that he is not the kind of player to lose sleep in such situations.

I recalled what he had told me over 17 years ago when I was writing his (and his son’s) autobiography, A Touch Of Tennis.

“Sitting in my bed that evening, I said to myself, ‘All is not lost, I just have to win a best of three sets match in two straight sets on the morrow’.

“Then again, these things are easier said than done. I was in good physical shape, but few months before my 30th birthday, my body wasn’t what it used to be when I was 23 or 24. And I felt the noose tighten inexorably as Koch raced to a 5-2 lead in the fourth set. As we changed over, the stands had almost emptied. People had left quickly, accepting the inevitability of my defeat.”

The next day, Krishnan was 0-30 down on serve, just two points away from defeat. “The point about teetering on the brink is, you should steer yourself off the thoughts about the seemingly inevitable fall and concentrate on moving back to safe ground,” he says.

Then, after winning the fourth set, the maestro raced to 4-0 in the fifth. What followed led to some of the most passionate and memorable celebrations among sports lovers in the country — for the first time India was in the Davis Cup final [then the Challenge Round] against the mighty Australians.

Rousing welcome

When he landed in Chennai, Krishnan was given the sort of welcome never seen at any Indian airport as the humble self-effacing champion walked under a canopy of tennis racquets.

“My earliest memory of my father’s career was going to the airport to receive him,” says Ramesh, who played some of the most sublime and jaw-droppingly beautiful tennis to emulate his father as he stunned Wally Masur of Australia in the semifinals at Sydney to earn India a shot at the title, against Sweden.

It is another thing that India lost both the finals, in 1966 in Melbourne — where Krishnan and Mukherjea brought off one of the greatest victories of their careers in doubles, beating Newcombe and Roche — and in 1987 at Gothenberg.

The Australian team of 1966 comprised Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, Tony Roche and John Newcombe while the Swedes who lined up for the final included Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Anders Jarryd and Joakim Nystrom. But Edberg had to pull out in the last minute because of an injury.

Of course, playing in the title round of the Davis Cup is not the only thing in common between the father and son.

And inevitably, the informal chat steered us to the influence of technology today and how different it was in Ramanathan Krishnan’s time.

Both admitted that not much can be done to stop the evolution of technology. Krishnan’s father, T.K. Ramanathan, a true visionary, sliced off a piece of the bottom end of the racquet with which his son pulled off the famous inter-zonal final victory against Koch so that the young Ramesh could play with it.

“Yes, he did it. But with today’s racquets there may not be any need for that sort of innovation,” says Krishnan. “Today, I believe, 30 per cent of the advantage that players have is down to technology,” says Krishnan.

And it would be unfair to compare their achievements not so much because of techno-leaps as because of the fact there was much more depth in talent in Ramesh’s time.

We talk of a lot more but we can safely leave the last words to Krishnan.

“I believe Roger Federer is better than Rod Laver. Laver did not have a big serve and Federer has no weaknesses in his all-round game”.

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Printable version | Aug 3, 2021 10:29:58 PM |

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