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|June 23, 2001||
Ask any Indian tennis player, and he will tell you that just being at the hallowed grounds at the Wimbledon, is more important than actually doing well. This however does not mean that the Indians have not fared well at the Championships, still considered the world's most wanted title.
The tournament first began 124 years ago, in 1877, but it was only in 1884, foreign players started participating here. The Indians meanwhile, took some time to be a part of history at the Wimbledon Championships.
Let us take a look at these Indians, who over the years, not only just participated in the event, but have fared with some distinction at the Wimbledon. This is their story.
* In 1905, one B Nehru entered as a participant in the tournament, but for reasons not known, he did not actually play - he gave a walkover to his opponent.
* However, the distinction of playing a match at the Wimbledon, goes to Sardar Nihal Singh. He lost in the first round in 1908 and 1909 but managed to reach the third round in 1910.
* British based brothers from Bombay AA Fyzee and Dr AH Fyzee appeared from 1910 and then after a hiatus of nearly ten years, made a re-appearance in the Championship in the early twenties. The latter, in fact, made the last 16 stage in 1923 and 1925. * SM Jacob, appeared in 1921 (reached the last 16 stage), in 1924 (last 16) and in 1925 (the quarter-final stage). India born Sydney Jacob, was stationed at Lahore as a Deputy Commissioner, and has the distinction of leading the Indian team in its first Davis Cup tie in 1921. He is also credited to be the first player representing India to reach the quarterfinal stage at Wimbledon in 1925.
* Mohammad Sleem, a lawyer from Lahore, then India's number one player during the twenties, reached the last 16 in 1921. He won the Wimbledon Plate title in 1928 (this tournament is played between players who lose in the first and second rounds) when he beat local player JB Gilbert 6-3, 6-3. He thus became the first Indian player to win a title, albeit a minor one at the Wimbledon, until 1954.
* Another Indian born Britisher, who appeared for India in the Davis Cup, Lewis Deane was the mixed doubles runner-up with Mrs Shepherd Barron of Britain in 1923. A British civil servant with the finance department, he became the first Indian to appear in a Wimbledon final.
* Jagat Mohan Lal, from Punjab, who represented India in the Davis Cup in 1925, joined Jacob and AH Fyzee to become the third Indian to reach the last 16 in 1925 - the only time three Indians went so far in the same tournament.
* India's number one tennis player during the thirties and forties Ghaus Mohammad Khan reached the quarter-final in 1939 to become the first Indian to do so. He lost to the champion American Bobby Riggs.
* Jimmy Mehta and Sumant Misra represented India at the Championships after the War. They reached the doubles quarter-finals in 1947 and 1948.
* Dilip Bose who was the first Indian to be seeded in 1950 (no 15), reached the 16 stage (4th round) in 1948.
* A Punjab University champion from Lahore, Narendra Nath appeared for several years during the 1940s and 1950s. Reached the third round in 1948 and 1950 and was a mixed doubles quarter-finalist in 1951.
* Ramanathan Krishnan, the touch artist from Madras had already made his Davis Cup debut in 1953 as a 16-year old. The same year he lost the junior final to Britain's William Knight.
However in his second attempt in 1954 he won the junior title - to become the first Indian to do so. He beat Australian Ashley Cooper (6-2, 7-5), who later in 1958 became the men's singles champion. During the fifties Krishnan was a regular at the Championships and by the early sixties, he was ranked in the top-ten in the world.
So it comes as no surprise that he was twice semi-finalists in 1960 (lost to Neil Fraser 6-3, 6-2, 6-2) and 1961 (lost to Rod Laver 6-2, 8-6, 6-2) - still the only Indian to reach so far in the men's singles.
In 1962, he was seeded no 4 - the highest ever seeding achieved by an Indian, but had to retire during the third round match due to an ankle injury. He has also reached the doubles quarter-finals four times in 1955 (with Naresh Kumar), in 1959 (with L Ayala), 1965 (with RN Howe) and 1967 (with Jaideep Mukherjea).
* Naresh Kumar reached the round 16 stage (4th round) in 1955 and also the doubles quarter-final stage with Ramanathan Krishnan the same year.
* In 1958, Premjit Lall became the second Indian to reach the final in the junior section. He lost to American Earl Bucholtz, who in the same year became the first to win the junior Grand Slam. Four years later, he reached the third round of the men's singles in 1962 and 1965 and was twice doubles quarterfinalists in 1966 and 1973 with Jaideep Mukherjea. Lall, incidentally, was involved in one of the longest tie-breakers against Sweden's Bjorn Borg, who prevailed at 20-18 (38 points) in the third set of the first round of 1973. The scores were: 6-3, 6-4, 9-8.
* Jaideep Mukherjea in 1960 was the junior runner-up, when he had lost to South African Rodney Mandelstam. He reached the doubles quarter-finals on three occasions - in 1967 with Ramanathan Krishnan and in 1966 and 1973 with Premjit Lall. Has also reached the last 16 stage in the singles four times - in 1963, 1964, 1966 and 1973.
* The immensely talented Vijay Amritraj from Madras has been a regular to the Wimbledon since 1969. Even today he participates in the senior event at the Wimbledon, although he is now a television commentator at these Championships. In his first proper Wimbledon Championships in 1972 he reached the second round.
However, in his second year, he had the distinction of reaching the quarter-final stage in 1973 and then again in 1981. In 1973, he was twice on match point when he lost to Czech Jan Kodes, the eventual champion. The scores: 6-4, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-5. Had he won this match he could have won the title as he would have had easier opponents to face. Most of the top players had boycotted the event due to the Nikki Pilic affair. Vijay, from 1974 to 1979 regularly lost in the second round, while in 1980 he lost in the first round.
But in 1981, he reached the quarter-final stage for the only second time in his career, but lost to American Jimmy Connors in a close five-setter: 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 3-6, 2-6. He had earlier beaten the 1973 champion Kodes in the first round. In 1982, he lost in the third round, but then lost in the opening rounds in 1983 and 1984, but managed to the fourth round in 1985.
He also appeared in 1986 (first round) & 1987 (second round). But the nearest he got to winning a title was when he reached the doubles semi-final in 1976 with elder brother Anand Amritraj, They however lost 6-3, 7-5, 8-6 to the eventual champion pair of Brian Gottfried (USA) and Raul Ramirez (Mexico). Anand, more a doubles player appeared quite a number of times at the Championships, but without success.
* India's Davis Cupper and number three Shashi Menon appeared in few matches during the early eighties but was always an early round casualty. In 1980, he beat a British player Robin Drysdale in a five-setter but lost the next round to fourth seeded American Vitas Gerulaitis in four sets.
* Younger brother of Anand and Vijay, Ashok Amritraj in 1974 was the junior runner-up. He lost to American Billy Martin, who had won the title the previous year too. Ashok, later appeared in mixed doubles matches.
* Ramesh Krishnan, emulated his father, Ramanathan by winning the junior title in 1979. He beat American Don Siegler 6-0, 6-2. Ramesh, by then, was the number one junior player in the world. In 1985, he reached the third round of the men's single where he lost to third seed Connors in four sets. Then the next year, he reached the quarter-final stage but lost to the big serving Yugoslavian Slobodan Zivojinovic.
* Leander Paes from Calcutta, became the third Indian to win the junior title in 1990. Seeded 11, Paes defeated South African Marcus Ondruska, seeded two - 7-5, 2-6, 6-4. Paes has been appearing in the men's singles event from 1996, but has never gone past the first round. However in 1999, top seeds Paes and his partner Mahesh Bhupathi created history by becoming the first Indians to win a major title at the Wimbledon, when they beat Dutchman Paul Haarhuis and American Jared Palmer 6-7, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 in the doubles final.
Paes, then added another title to his kitty, when he won the mixed doubles title with American Lisa Raymond. The pair, who was the top seed, beat Jonas Bjorkman (Sweden) and Anna Kournikova (Russia) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3. Although both Paes and Bhupathi have been a regular first-round casualty in the singles, the former has managed to reach the main draw in 2001.
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