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The Rediff Interview/Vijay Amritraj
'Leander, Mahesh have been phenomenal'
December 10, 2004
Vijay Amritraj played Wimbledon for 17 years, led India to Davis Cup finals in 1973 and 1974, is the only Indian to win the Baron Pierre de Courbetin Award, featured in a Bond movie and was United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2001.
But his biggest claim to fame remains forming the leading element of tennis' ABC.
On talent, they said, Amritraj was a shade better than Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors, but Borg and Connors, multiple Slam winners, raced ahead because of their temperament.
"I always believe I did the best I could," says Amritraj.
As the first person to start a tennis academy in India, the Britannia Amritraj Tennis Academy, Amritraj has a lot to look forward to during the ABN Amro tennis tournament on December 10 and 11 in Mumbai.
Sports Correspondent Deepti Patwardhan caught up with the legend during the pre-tournament press conference in Mumbai.
Can youngsters in India carry on the mantle from Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi?
I have always said that Leander and Mahesh have been phenomenal. They have been successful in keeping India on the tennis map. It will always be difficult for the youngsters to carry on from there. Each year Lee and Hesh play, they are keeping India's chances alive. But when you are past 30 it is difficult. Now it is up to the (young) guys here to keep the torch burning.
We always say the youngsters are not good enough but a time comes when there will be a gap. Things change as you go along. If there's a gap there's a gap. Someone comes along usually. But it is important to have more than one player. We can't rely on one or two people. There need to be many more kids. That's why this event (ABN Amro tennis tournament) is important as it gives a chance to eight players. It will be a keen competition.
After you, India has not produced any singles player of great distinction.
It's unfortunate. We need to concentrate more on singles. It is very important all these kids understand that. I have always said if you really want to be the best you can be, not compared to the next person. You need to excel at the best of your ability.
There's always a reason to practice more. You are never done. You are always learning. Look at Roger Federer. He is far ahead of everyone else, but he is trying to improve to the best he can be. If you look at the great Olympic athletes, that's what they did, not beating the next person but by being the best that they can.
Is Federer too far ahead of other players?
His ranking shows that. His ATP ranking points are double that of the nearest rival. He is way ahead. The rankings don't lie. Andy Roddick is number two so he is the second best.
Now that you are settled in America, what are your views on the men's tennis scene there?
There are a couple of good guys besides Roddick in Mardy Fish and Taylor Dent. But until you win a Grand Slam you are not as visible. You need to do well in the Grand Slams. But all of them are ranked in the top 100, which is very good.
What do Indian players lack on the world stage?
It's usually an overall thing; their determination, hard work and training methods. When you make any kind of money you have to invest it back in yourself so that you try to make yourself better and not live on your laurels. It's very important to be able to invest in the future. You have to understand that and not just say, 'Well, I won a juniors tournament,' and sit back and enjoy.
Is infrastructure in India for tennis good enough?
The infrastructure here is a lot better than it was. There is greater opportunity, more sponsors and a lot more television in the game. In our days, a tournament like this would never have been televised. Today we have that, we have sponsors, we have many promoters for sporting events. It's a great opportunity for everyone.
Is tennis elitist?
Not as far as excellence is concerned. Perhaps at the ground level, it is tougher to play tennis than it is to play football. But looking out of the pool of youngsters playing, there are plenty of players to be able to pull talent to get to the top of the tennis world. The important thing is to get all of them together.
What do you predict for Indian tennis?
I always travel in hope. If you don't have hope, all is lost. We have a great set of talented guys. The question is how much are they willing to invest in themselves to get to where they should be.
Are you involved in coaching now?
I only coach my son. He is doing fine. Unfortunately, he was injured for this tournament. Apart from that he is doing well and looking forward to the Chennai Open.
Is the Davis Cup losing some of its sheen because not as many top players as the 1970s and 1980s are playing in the event?
The top players are now playing. About five years ago maybe it was not as quite important. The Seville's (Spain versus America, December 2004) tournament was fantastic. Even the final last year in Australia. All the important guys are playing. It's still taking its toll because December is the final, and January the season starts again. It's a tough ask.
Andre Agassi was the last person to win on all surfaces. Who can excel in all conditions?
Federer. He has only failed in Paris, but he won in Hamburg on clay. He can win the Grand Slam.
Photgraphs: Getty Images and Jewella Miranda