A swell of the never-say-die spirit

Vijay Amritraj.   | Photo Credit: — File PHOTO

Shyam Ranganathan

The easy rider, Vijay Amritraj, talks on zest for life at Pan IIT

CHENNAI: Twenty-one years ago, long before India had won an Olympic bronze or a Grand Slam doubles crown, many commentators talked of a pivotal moment in Indian tennis history. Trailing Argentina in the Davis Cup pre-quarterfinal 2-1, India’s aging tennis superstar seemed to be giving his all fruitlessly in the fourth set, when he came up with a magical drop volley. “The dead man didn’t merely open his eyes but got up and walked,” a leading sports commentator wrote of that moment which finally culminated in a run to the Cup finals in Vijay Amritraj’s retirement year.

Twenty-one years later, on Thursday afternoon, at the end of a trip through three continents from freezing New York to humid Chennai, Amritraj shows the same never-say-die and easy rider spirit, talking of a zest for life at Pan IIT 2008, the global conference for IIT alumni. Speaking to The Hindu, Amritraj does not duck the obvious question: “What has a sports celebrity and entertainer have to do with an academic institution celebrating the corporate success of its alumni?” “It is all about developing yourself as a person in any walk of life to achieve a degree of self-satisfaction in your field. You have to challenge yourself day in and day out to become the best in your field of work and it doesn’t matter whether it is sports or academics. IIT alumni have achieved a lot through their self-application just as sportspersons have managed in their fields,” he says.

And what about the fuss surrounding modern-day sports celebrities? “They are under much more pressure. Sania (Mirza) has received so much attention because she is the first Indian woman to break into the top-50, but she also has to compete with a bunch of other sportspersons like the cricketers, Abhinav (Bindra), Saina (Nehwal), Narain (Karthikeyan), Vishy (Anand) and a whole lot more. In my time it was just me and cricket.”

Has the game changed fundamentally over the years? “There have been all kinds of technological improvements: the racquets, the courts, the balls. There have also been changes in the mindsets of the players and the coaching methods. But, fundamentally, you still have the same nerves when you are down 15-30 in an important game. So the sport has not changed that much from the older times.”

What about the state of Indian tennis now? “There are a lot of good players but I am not really tuned in to all the events on the ground. Indian sport in general has also grown a lot over the last couple of decades. But, talent is one thing and coaching is another. We have to nurture talent but also ensure that the players get the best coaching. If you have good coaches here, use them well. If you need others, go ahead and import them. The globalisation idea is the same whether it is the economy or sports; get the best from wherever they are available and you can do well.”

When asked if he would consider coming back to the circuit to coach youngsters, he laughs it off.

“I am past my years in tennis. We will need the best. I have many other interests now including my Foundation. But I keep myself in touch with the sport all the time.”

Unhurried as on the court, Amritraj walks out with Anil Kumble to join the others in the discussion panel arranged by the Pan IIT 2008 for family members of delegates.