Naresh Kumar, who strode the Indian tennis scene like a colossus, passed away here following a brief illness owing to age-related complications. The former India Davis Cup captain was 93 and is survived by wife Sunita, a son and two daughters.
Born on December 22, 1928 in Lahore, Naresh Kumar went on to become a big name in Indian tennis after Independence. He made news by reaching the final of the Northern Championships (later known as Manchester Open) in England in 1949. His talent was soon recognised and Naresh Kumar made it to the Davis Cup team in 1952. He represented the country for eight consecutive years and later went on to become the captain.
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Naresh Kumar belonged to that generation of Indian players who did well in the international arena. He made it to the singles main draw at the Wimbledon for nine consecutive years with his best coming in 1955 when he reached the pre-quarterfinals. He also reached the third round of the French Open in 1958. He also did well in doubles reaching the Wimbledon quarterfinals in 1953, 1955 and 1958.
Prior to his Grand Slam appearances, Naresh Kumar went on to win two singles titles in the Irish Championships in 1952 and 1953. He also won the singles crown in the Welsh Championship and won a total of five career titles.
“We grew up idolising Naresh Kumar as the tennis star. He had a great influence on me, Premjit Lal and Dilip Bose as we were starting our tennis lessons as teenagers in the South Club. He used to help us a lot and would often join us in playing doubles matches to show the finer aspects of the game. He was a perfect gentleman who was always working for the development of tennis in the country,” remembered Jaidip Mukerjea, another famous name in Indian tennis who later became Naresh Kumar’s Davis Cup teammate in 1960.
“I still remember my Davis Cup debut in 1960 against Thailand. I got a place alongside my captain Naresh in the two-member team after Ramanathan Krishnan contracted chicken pox. I won the debut singles match in five sets then as an 18-year-old. Despite being my captain, Naresh was always attending to me, messaging my legs and motivating me to go for the win.
He was a very fit tennis player and had a very good volley and smash. He became a mentor to me and helped me do well in the international circuit,” Mukerjea said. “He was also a successful entrepreneur and later on he did a lot of charitable work for underprivileged children. He had a big influence on the tennis career of Leander Paes, who went on to become one of the biggest names of Indian tennis,” he added.