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Evergreen hero of Indian tennis

When you step into Ramanathan Krishnan’s residence on Oliver Road, Mylapore, you can’t miss a green patch on the side of the living room. Closer look reveals that it is a cute tennis court, trees around it and a nice walkway surrounding the court.

Evergreen hero of Indian tennis
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Ramanathan Krishnan

Chennai

That was where the Krishnans recreated their passion for Wimbledon, the father and son (Ramesh) having had a good time on the grass-court of London years ago. 

“Now, we, my wife and I, use it for our walk,” confesses Ramanathan Krishnan. “I am almost 80, I can’t play. But Ramesh makes it a point to play here with his friends at times,” he adds. 

In fact, there are many similarities between their careers. Both were touch players and both of them had won the Junior Wimbledon before extending their success at the grasscourt in the senior level too. 

However, the father’s bag of success weights much heavier because he had reached the Wimbledon semi-finals twice apart from beating big names in Davis Cup those days. In 1954 he became the first Asian player to win the boy’s singles title at Wimbledon beating  Ashley Cooper in the final. In 1959, Krishnan played for India in the Davis Cup and beat Australia’s Rod Lever, who had finished runner-up atWimbledon that year. 

On the back of these performances,  Krishnan was seeded seventh at Wimbledon in 1960 where he reached the semi-finals losing to the eventual champion  Neale Fraser. The next year, Krishnan reached the Wimbledon semi-finals by beating Roy Emerson in straight sets but lost in the semis to eventual champion Rod Laver. Krishnan was the fourth seed at Wimbledon in 1962 but had to withdraw due to an ankle injury. 

Krishnan had some of the best wins in Davis Cup in which India reached the Inter-Zonal final in 1956, 1959, 1962, 1963 and 1968. India shocked West Germany in the inter-zonal semi-finals with Krishnan beating Wilhelm Bungert, who reached the final at Wimbledon that year. At Kolkata, in the semi-finals against Brazil Krishnan won a decisive fifth match against Tomas Koch who was leading two sets to one and was up 5–2 in the fourth set. 

Krishnan won the set 7-5 to script one of the most memorable comebacks in Davis Cup. Krishnan senior still follows Wimbledon and other big matches on television but he does not watch Chennai Open. “Nowadays, I don’t go to the stadium to watch tennis,” says the Arjuna, Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan award winner. “I am not up to date. When my grandchildren and Ramesh used to play, I used to be active. Now I have lost touch,” adds the master. Krishnan, who runs a gas distribution agency in the city with the help of his son (Ramesh), feels tennis has become competitive but also expensive because of travel and hotel stay. “It is extremely difficult for Indians to compete in European and American tournaments. The youngsters are feeling the pinch. For the Europeans the Tour is easy because they can easily go from one event to another,” explains Krishnan senior. 

For someone who learned tennis from his father TK Ramanathan in Nagercoil, Krishnan should be pleased with the lineage that he has in the game. Apart from Ramesh, his daughter Gowri and the next generation also played at some level. And the court at Oliver Road, which was clay in the beginning before he and Ramesh had this passionate idea of converting it to grass, had a role to play in the careers of all the family members.

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