Saturday School: Lesser known facts about Indian Tennis

The game of tennis was introduced in India during its days under the British rule. It was in the 1880s when the Britishers brought the game to India. Ever since tennis has been a sport that has seen a silent curve of growth in Asia and especially in India. Here are a few questions a tennis follower should know about when it comes to Tennis In India.

Which were the first tennis tournaments in India? Who won it?

It was in 1885 when the first-ever tennis tournament started in Lahore which was then located in an undivided India and is now in Pakistan. Two more tournaments, namely, the Bengal Lawn Tennis Championships in Calcutta (1887) and the All India Lawn Tennis Championships in Allahabad (1910) were conducted. The tournaments were dominated by the Britishers in their early years. TD Berrington and LC Ogbourne regularly won those tournaments.
 It was in 1915 when India saw its first tennis champion. Mohd. Saleem of Lahore won the Punjab Championships. He dominated the tournament from 1917 to 1926. In 1917, NS Iyer became the first Indian to win the Bengal Championships and in 1919, the All India Lawn Tennis Championships was won for the very first time by an Indian, Mr.Nagu.

Which was the first Indian Davis Cup team?

Samuel Perry O’Donnell, a British member of the Indian Civil Service became the first President of the All India Lawn Tennis Association which was formed in Lahore in 1920. The committee decided upon organizing an All India National Championships and also send the first Indian team to the Davis Cup.
In 1921, the first Indian Davis Cup team was made which consisted of Mohd. Saleem, SM Jacob, LS Deane and AA Fayzee. In its first go at the Davis Cup, the Indian team was highly impressive as it defeated a strong French team en route to the semifinals. The Indians participated in the Davis Cup on a regular basis till 1929. It saw the inclusion of AH Fayzee (brother of AA Fayzee), Cotah Ramaswamy and Krishna Prasad. In those initial years, the Indian team was a competitive one as it got the better of top tennis-playing nations like France, Romania, Belgium, Spain, Greece, and Holland on various occasions.
1920 Indian Olympic team. AH Fayzee (circled)
India’s magnificent runs at the Paris Olympics in 1924, Davis Cup and Wimbledon led top tennis players to visit the country for competing in tournaments. Bill Tilden and Henry Cochet were some of the biggest names that visited India.

Who has achieved the best result for India at Wimbledon in singles?

In 1905, BK Nehru became the first tennis player from India to enter Wimbledon. Unfortunately, in the second round, he gifted a walkover to his opponent.
In 1908, Sardar Nihal Singh became the second Indian to enter Wimbledon’s main draw but defeated in the first round.
Many players from the Indian Davis Cup team made it to the Wimbledon draw but the maximum they could reach was the Round of 16.
However, in 1939 India took a step forward. It was Ghouse Mohd., India’s then No.1 tennis player who made it to the quarterfinals at Wimbledon. He was defeated by the eventual champion, Bobby Riggs.
No Indian has won the senior men’s singles title to date. Though, in the juniors singles, Ramanathan Krishnan (1954), Ramesh Krishnan(1979) and Leander Paes(1990) have won the titles for India.

Which club in India was considered as the “Cradle of the game(lawn tennis) in the country(India) ?”

When the World War ended, the AILTA decided to introduce two new tournaments in India – Grass Court National Championships and All India Hard Court Championships. The former was open to international players. In 1946, the South Club in Calcutta held the first Grass Court National Championships. It was won by Sumant Misra. From 1946 to 1955, Sumant Misra, Dilip Bose, and Ramanathan Krishnan were the only Indians who won the tournament. Out of the many foreigners who came and dominated the tournament till 1976,  the most famous ones were Roy Emerson and Ilie Nastase. Ramanathan Krishnan from India won a record number of 8 titles.

What are India’s best results at the Davis Cup?

After the Fayzee brothers, it was the father-son duo of Ramanathan Krishnan and Ramesh Krishnan who represented India in two different time periods. While Ramanathan earned became the highest seeded (4) Indian at Wimbledon in 1962, it was his son who targeted Davis Cup glory. Ramesh Krishnan played a vital role in carrying India to the Davis Cup finals in 1966 where they lost to Australia.
In 1974, the Amritraj brothers, Vijay and Anand, led India to yet another Davis Cup final. The finals were set and Indians were supposed to face South Africa. The Africans had the advantage of the final being conducted on their home soil. But, during those days the apartheid policies of Africa were unacceptable by the Indian government and hence due to political reasons, on the orders of Indira Gandhi, the Indian team boycotted the finals. South Africans were handed the winning trophy.
Image result for vijay amritraj
The Amritraj brothers in action
In 1987, Ramesh Krishnan made yet another valiant effort and helped India reach the finals of the Davis Cup. By then, he had achieved the distinction of winning the junior French and Wimbledon titles. In the seniors draw he had reached the quarterfinals at Wimbledon and US Open. This time around, India defeated Australia in the semifinals. They lost again in the finals to Sweden, a team that consisted of Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander.

Who was India’s first female tennis player?

Rita Davar was the first Indian female tennis player who arrived at the scene in the girls singles finals at Wimbledon in 1952. She had a few match points in the finals but squandered those opportunities to settle as the runner-up. She made it to the main draw in 1953 and 1954 but did not dig deep into the draw. In 1955 her mixed doubles pairing with Ramanathan Krishnan saw her reach the third round. In 1956, Davar lost in the first round of the qualifying draw and her whereabouts are no longer know since then.
“..about a dozen women players took part in the National championship then and about six in the South India championship. “To make up for the draw, the entries will be filled with dummy names like `Bat, ball, volley and smash.’ The first girl to break the tradition was a Panjabi girl from Calcutta, Rita Davar. She reached the junior final at Wimbledon in 1952 and was on match point. I was a witness to that. Later she married a German and I have not heard about her since.”
– Ramanathan Krishnan

What are the nicknames given to some Indian tennis players?

Sumant Misra: Grandfather of Indian Tennis
Ramanathan Krishnan: Eastern Magic
Vijay Amritraj: The Black Tornado
Leander Paes & Mahesh Bhupathi: Indian Express
Rohan Bopanna: Bofors
Indian Tennis has had a good run in tennis and players like Yuki Bhambri, Sumit Nagal, Saketh Myneni are doing their best to carry forward the game’s popularity in the country.

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