Tennis as a sport is one that is extremely engaging and fascinating. It takes more than a couple of good serves and hard hitting blows and some really good technique to make it matter in the world of tennis. Passion and determination is as important a factor as skill and talent. Because success can only be met through continuing perseverance, not many manage to make it big for long. Tennis in India might be overshadowed by the crazy frenzy if cricket but the sport has been thriving in the country since long. Over the years the country has been witness to some spectacular talents who have delivered world class performances. Here are the best Indian tennis players of all times who have been making the nation proud-
For those who have been following Indian tennis from its nascency, Ramanathan Krishnan is no stranger. He is among the famed few of the Indian tennis players credited for putting the country up there along other heavyweights on the global competitive stage. A prolific player, perhaps it has been Krishnan’s level- headedness and his distinctive finesse that made him a crowd favorite and one of the finest to have emerged from the country.
The first Asian to win the Wimbledon junior title, that too on the very next year of his 1953 debut, who also won the All India Championships a record six times and played eight finals, Krishnan easily is among the best tennis players India has ever produced. Krishnan was ranked as high as number 4 in the world at a time when there wasn’t easy access to the finest of infrastructural facilities.
From leading the national team to its first ever Davis Cup final against Australia in 1966 to notching up a half century of singles wins in the tournament, Krishnan’s over two decades long presence in the national Davis Cup team stomps his authority as a player par excellence. Krishnan’s presence in the tennis circuit is very fondly referred to as the golden era of Indian tennis and he had been one of the leading players in the world during the 50s and 60s.
Perhaps the most prolific among Indian tennis players, Leander Paes has always been a force to be reckoned with on court. Whether it be his intense performance or his die hard determination, Paes has been instrumental in making tennis in India more than just a sport. His many exploits on court ushered in a new era in Indian tennis, stemming from passion and power, rather than the mere marvels that define the sport. Stylish and flamboyant, it is indeed to Paes’ credit that he has been so instrumental in making the sport so very popular in a country otherwise known for its craze of cricket.
One of the greatest among contemporary doubles tennis players, Paes has to his credit astounding records. His heroics with the tennis racquet on the international stage can be traced even to his junior days. Not only did he clinch the Junior US Open and Wimbledon titles, he also rose to number one in the junior world rankings.
Paes burst into the professional scene in 1991 with as much gusto, as the very next year saw him play at the quarter finals of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But his greater moment of fame came four years later in the subsequent Olympics at Atlanta when he beat Fernando Meligeni to win the bronze medal, becoming the first Indian player in 44 years to clinch an individual medal.
The first ever Indian and also the only tennis player to have competed at seven Olympic Games, consecutively through 1992 to 2016, Paes also holds a commendable record in the Grand Slam tournaments. With eight doubles and ten mixed doubles in his kitty, Paes is also the only player after the legendary Rod Laver to win Wimbledon titles over the course of three decades.
Leander Paes also holds not only a career Grand Slam in men’s doubles and mixed double but he also achieved the rare double of clinching both the men’s and the mixed titles in the 1999 Wimbledon tournament. As a captain, Paes also holds the record for the most Davis Cup wins with 43 victories.
Not only that, at 41 years, Paes also became the oldest man to have won a Grand Slam event when he clinched the mixed crown at the 2015 Australian Open alongside Swiss player Martina Hingis. Together with another illustrious of the Indian tennis players Mahesh Bhupathi, Paes had a formidable reputation in the world of tennis doubles. Referred to as The Indian express, the pair went on to clinch a number of victories for India in many international tournaments.
If Leander Paes has been the one heralding a resurgence in Indian tennis in the modern times, then it’s Sania Mirza who has been the flagbearer of the Indian women’s tennis circuit. The only Indian woman ever to have won a Grand Slam event, and also the highest ranked among Indian tennis players, Sania Mirza has forever been a phenomenon. Her powerful backhand strokes complements well her fierce personality both on and off court. However for some who had been told to quit playing at a mere eight years because then ‘no one would marry her, Mirza’s story is not just of passion and talent, but also of grit and determination.
Mirza’s reputation as being the most successful Indian tennis player ever also has boded well for her public image. One of the highest-paid and high-profile athletes in the country, Mirza is the first among female players of the country to have surpassed US$1 million in career earnings. Also a former world number one in doubles, Mirza’s Grand Slam cabinet is equally decorated with six doubles and mix doubles titles. Mirza also has been the first Indian woman to have been seeded at a Grand Slam event at the 2006 Australian Open while for the 2015 Wimbledon championship, Mirza’s top seeding made her again the first women player from the country with such distinction.
Mirza’s series of unprecedented wins and exploits on the tennis court in the international stage also earned her accolades and fame. Her inspiring journey led her to being named one of the “50 Heroes of Asia” by Time magazine in October 2005. The UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia and one among Time’s 100 most influential people in the world in 2016, Mirza’s success and assertion spawns boundaries and realms, from being a global citizen to being an international player, Mirza’s many accomplishments stand unparalleled. The only woman in the list, Sania Mirza sure packs power with her serves!
For the longest time in Indian tennis history, the buzz had been dominated with the iconic pairing of Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes who set out together to build incredible records and furthered the march of Indian tennis on the global stage.
The Paes- Bhupathi pairing also was the first doubles team to have reached the finals of all the four Grand Slam tournaments to be the first ever of the Open Era names to have achieved the feat. They together also have had the longest doubles streak in Davis Cup history.
From being the first Indian to win a Grand Slam tournament to achieving a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles, Bhupathi has also been widely regarded as the best doubles player in the history of world tennis. Bhupathi has also to his name quite a unique record- he has won Grand slam titles with seven different partners and in straight sets. But perhaps what lends Mahesh Bhipathi a greater stature than any of his contemporaries is that he has been instrumental in stepping up the career of Indian tennis’ most successful female player ever, Sania Mirza.
Another Indian tennis player who had been among the stalwarts of the sports in the years gone by is Vijay Amritraj. Even after more than two decades of his retirement from the professional circuit, Amritraj remains the highest–ranked Indian singles player ever with his World No 16 standing obtained in 1980. A part of the famed ‘ABC of tennis’, alongside legends Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors whom he had also vanquished, Amritraj was also Asia’s No.1 tennis player for over a decade.
One among the finest of India’s contemporary doubles players, Rohan Bopanna has been a member of India’s Davis Cup playing team since 2002 and is only the fourth Indian player to win a Grand Slam title. Bopanna had been instrumental in India’s 2010 Davis Cup triumph over Brazil, which took India back to the World Group for the first time since 1998.
While India has been dabbling in doubles and mixed doubles events in the world stage, the country’ singles exploits are relatively few and far between. Among the rare breed of Indian tennis players who have been active and fairly successful in the individual circuit is Somdev Devvarman. The only collegiate player to have made three consecutive finals at the NCCA, perhaps it was the strenuous competition at the junior level that readied Devvarman up for contention at the national and international stage. In fact he remains one of the fittest tennis players to have emerged from India in the modern era of the sport.