Ramanathan Krishnan: India’s greatest-ever tennis player

Ramanathan Krishnan plays a backhand shot during a tennis match

Ramanathan Krishnan who turned 82 on 11 April 2019 is without doubt the greatest tennis player India has produced. As a young lad in Kolkata, I was fortunate to see his magic and gentlemanly behaviour on court and even privileged to witness his famous win over Thomas Koch of Brazil in Kolkata in 1966 which took India to the Davis Cup final for the first time. I met the maestro recently at his office in Chennai to present him with a copy of my quiz book The Complete Indian Sports Quiz Book. The gentleman that Krishnan is, he promptly sent me his comments on the book. Excerpts from the interview that followed.

Ramanathan Krishnan with Vijayan Bala
The author, Vijayan Bala, presenting Ramanathan Krishnan with a copy of his quiz book in Chennai. The tennis legend commented: “Congratulations on The Complete Indian Sports Quiz Book. I went through your book and I can see that you have taken a lot of pain. It is very interesting. Well done. Best wishes, Ramanathan Krishnan.”

How did you take to tennis and who was your coach?
Tennis was in my family. My father T. K. Ramanathan was a very good tennis player. He could have played at Wimbledon in 1939 had the Second World War not begun that year. He was not only my coach but also of my son Ramesh who played well for India. In my opinion, my father was the best coach our country has ever had.

Tell us about your winning the Junior Wimbledon title in 1954.
In my first two attempts, in 1952 and 1953, I did not succeed in winning the title but I learnt a lot from these. In 1954, I won the title defeating Ashley Cooper of Australia in the final. Winning that title was an opening for me to world tennis. I played in the Senior Wimbledon that year.

A few months before the National Championships in 1954, you went to Australia to be trained by the legendary coach Harry Hopman. Why did you return from there earlier than scheduled?
I returned to India early as I was keen to participate in the National Championships.

Did the early return from the training affect your game?
Yes. My service suffered, and I also lost the opportunity of practising with many Australian players.

You are the only Indian tennis player to have made it to the semi-final of the Wimbledon singles, and that too twice. When did you first achieve this distinction?
It was in 1960 that I achieved this feat for the first time. I was seeded seventh. I was involved in three five-setters in the first, second and fourth rounds respectively before losing to top-seeded Australia’s Neale Fraser, the ultimate winner, in the semi-finals.

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Vijayan Bala

Vijayan Bala

Vijayan Bala is an educationist who has taught in many reputed schools across India. He has been a freelance writer for Indian Cricket, Sportsweek, Sportsworld, Hindustan Times and a commentator for AIR and Doordarshan. He served on the statistical committees of the BCCI and the Cricket Association of Bengal and has to his credit a book on cricket statistics and a sports quiz book.