BENGALURU : Once established in England, tennis caught the attention of colonised countries, including India. Anindya Dutta’s latest book Advantage India: The Story of Indian tennis (`599, Westland Sport), gives many such details about the sport and its evolution in India. The banker-turned-writer, who is obsessed with cricket, decided to turn his sixth book towards tennis. Excerpts from an interview:
Your books have largely been about cricket. What made you write about tennis this time?
I saw my first Test match when I was 7, and the first Davis Cup tie when I was 12. Since then the two sports have held a special place in my heart. While Indian cricket is rich in literature, the history of Indian tennis has largely been ignored. I felt it was time this was corrected and the rich legacy of the sport in India revealed to a generation that is searching for tennis heroes.
The subject is quite extensive, how did you go about the research for the book?
It was by far the most difficult book to research among the six I have written on sports history. Stories of remarkable men and women who influenced not only Indian tennis but history of our nation, had all but disappeared. I went deep into archives in India and abroad, obtained rare and out-of-print books detailing lives of some of the players of the early 20th century, and did extensive interviews with the oldest surviving players to gain insights into their careers and their predecessors and compatriots.
I then built the story brick by brick since its beginnings in the late 19th century, not long after the first Wimbledon Championships had been played. A fascinating tale that emerged was that Sydney Jacob, one of the early greats of Indian tennis, was to a great degree responsible for the eventual punishment that was meted out to Brigadier Dyer for the Jallianwalla Bagh massacre.
Which era of tennis in India do you think is the golden era?
As far as singles goes, it has to be the era that culminated with Krishnan reaching two Wimbledon semi-finals and World No. 3 in singles ranking, and Vijay Amritraj who achieved a lot but did not quite deliver all that he promised. Krishnan’s period had some remarkable players like Jaidip Mukherjea, Premjit Lall, and before them Sumant Misra and Naresh Kumar. The second golden age was the age of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi and the emergence of Sania Mirza.
What do you make of the current and upcoming players?
Prajnesh, Ramkumar and Sumit Nagal appear to be our best bets at the moment. It will take quite an effort for them to reach the levels that Vijay and Ramesh Krishnan got to, because tennis has changed, the resources needed have multiplied. The players need help from the Association and from corporate sponsors who are not really coming forward with the kind of backing needed.
Why haven’t we seen any women pros in the grand slam tours after Sania Mirza?
We have to recognise that Sania is an extraordinary player who emerged from an environment that had never produced a talent like her. She rose to World No. 27 in singles and the best result before her was a second round appearance at the Australian Open. She then became a multiple Grand Slam events winner. It will be some time before we see another Sania.