The list of legendary Indian tennis players includes all those sportsperson who have made a mark for themselves at national and international level. Right from Ramanathan Krishnan to the Amritraj brothers, till the recent rise of Yuki Bhambri, India is bestowed with great tennis players.
Tennis traditionally has not been the first sport played in India. But, lately it has become one of the most popular and played sports in India. Many youngsters, through their hard work, practice and talent are making it big in the world.
There are number of tennis stars that have shown their talent globally and have been honored with many awards. They are the true inspiration for the young and upcoming sports person in the coming years.
The game of tennis has many stars in India, but we have shortlisted 7 legendary Indian tennis players who have inspired the nation.
Legendary Indian Tennis Players – Ramanathan Krishnan
In the early 19th century, when lawn tennis was introduced to the Indian masses, the game was dominated by the British. Most of the titles during that period were won by foreign players, largely due to the fact that Indian talent was undiscovered.
But eventually Indian players started featuring in the game. One such trendsetters, who popularized lawn tennis among the Indians at that time was Ramanathan Krishnan. He should also be credited with starting the trend of legendary Indian tennis players as he was one of the world’s leading tennis players in the 1950s and 1960s.
- In 1954, Ramanathan became one of the earliest heroes of Independent India, emulating Balbir Singh Dosanjh. For our young nation he won the boys’ title at Wimbledon as a 17-year-old
- Krishnan came to the 1960 Wimbledon championships as the No. 7 seed. He had a memorable run and went all the way to the semi-final. He was beaten by the eventual champion, Neale Fraser
- Ramanathan once again made it to the Wimbledon semi-finals in 1961. This time as well he lost to the eventual champion, and all time great Australian Rod Laver
- In the 1961 championships, Krishnan overcame another contemporary great, Roy Emerson
- In 1966, Ramanathan Krishnan led India to their first Davis Cup finals, where India lost to Australia
Krishnan retired in 1968, but played a crucial role in his son Ramesh Krishnan’s successful professional career in the 1980s.
Vijay Amritraj kept the Indian flag flying high, with his notable performances at the international circuit. Amritraj, along with legendary Indian tennis players Ramanathan and Ramesh Krishnan, is among the handful of Indians to perform well at Grand Slams. Throughout his illustrious career, Vijay Amritraj performed rather well against the greatest names of tennis history. Legends like Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Newcombe, were beaten at least once by the aggressive Indian.
- The turning point of Vijay Amritraj’s career came in 1973. He made it to the quarter-finals at the two Grand Slams. At quarter-final of Wimbledon, he lost to eventual champion Jan Kodes and at the U.S. Open, Amritraj lost to tennis great Ken Rosewall
- In 1974, a gallant Vijay Amritraj teamed up with Shashi Menon, Jasjit Singh, and brother Anand Amritraj. These legendary Indian tennis players took India to the Davis Cup final for the second time. But, to protest against the racist regime in South Africa India refused to play with them
- Vijay reached the pinnacle of his career in July 1980. He was ranked World No. 16
- In 1981, Vijay Amritraj again reached the quarter-final of Wimbledon. But a feisty Jimmy Connors came back from a two-set deficit, to get the better of the Indian. Amritraj had an equally impressive Davis Cup record
Leander Paes is the epitome of Indian tennis for over two decades now. He is one of the most successful doubles players in tennis history. Paes till date has eight career Grand Slam doubles titles and six career Grand Slam mixed doubles championships to his name.
- Starting at the age of 5 Leander Paes in 1985 he joined a tennis academy in Madras
- At the 1990 Wimbledon junior title he won the championship and was briefly ranked the number one junior player in the world
- Paes was made part of the Indian Davis Cup team in 1990 and turned professional in 1991
- 1996 was the turning point of his playing career. He became only the second Indian after KD Jadhav in 1952 to win an individual Olympic medal. Paes won the bronze in men’s singles category
Paes shared a winning bond with countryman Mahesh Bhupathi.
- In both 1997 and 1998, the duo captured six ATP doubles titles out of the eight
- The “Indian Express” (as they were fondly called) advanced to the doubles finals of all four Grand Slams in 1999
- The duo won the French Open and Wimbledon, but lost the Australian and U.S. Open finals
Without Bhupathi after the year 2000, Paes continued his doubles success, winning five additional Grand Slam titles with various Czech partners.
- In mixed doubles, he won Grand Slam championships at Wimbledon (1999, 2003, 2010), the Australian Open (2003, 2010), and the U.S. Open (2008) with partners Lisa Raymond (1999), Martina Navratilova (2003), and Cara Black (2008–10)
Leander Paes, though not in the prime form of his career is now actively involved in coaching India’s next big tennis star.
Legendary Indian Tennis Players – Mahesh Bhupathi
The first Indian ever to win a Grand Slam Tournament Mahesh Shrinivas Bhupathi, is an Indian tennis icon. One of the most dominant tennis players in the world, Bhupathi has won a whopping 52 career titles in Doubles and 8 in mixed doubles.
Mahesh is undoubtedly one of the best mixed doubles players in the world.
- After clinching the 2006 Australian Open mixed doubles title, Mahesh joined the elite group of eight tennis players who have achieved a career Grand Slam in mixed doubles
- Apart from playing professional tennis, he is also the founder of International Premier Tennis League
Bhupathi took up tennis due to his father who also trained him.
- In 1999, he teamed up with Leander Paes. Together the “Indian Express” won three doubles titles including Roland Garros (French Open) and Wimbledon
- During that same year, the Indian Express became the World No. 1 doubles team
Though Rohan Bopanna was a late bloomer, it was due to his father that the lad from Coorg started playing tennis.
- Trained under C.G Krishna father of Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan turned pro in the year 2003
- He tried his best to qualify for the main draws at the singles event, but soon realized that his strengths suit the doubles style of play
Bopanna started partnering Mahesh Bhupathi in men’s doubles and Sania Mirza in mixed doubles at Davis Cup.
- In doubles, he partnered Pakistani player Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and together the duo won several titles
- The pair was fondly named “Indo-Pak Express.” The duo reached the finals of US Open in 2010, but lost out to top-seeded pair of Brian Brothers
- The Indo-Pak express won ATP’s “Humanitarian of the Year” award in 2010. Rohan was also named as a “Champion for Peace” by ‘Peace and Sport’ organization
- He reached the career-best ranking of 3 in July 2013
Rohan along with Sania Mirza narrowly missed the bronze medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Bopanna is still going strong and is aiming for the 2020 Olympics.
The high point of his career came in 2017, when the boy from Coorg won the French Open. He became only the fourth Indian after Paes, Bhupathi, and Mirza to win a grand slam. Rohan won the French Open mixed doubles title with Canadian partner Gabriela Dabrowski.
Legendary Indian Tennis Players – Sania Mirza
Sania Mirza is not just one of the legendary Indian tennis players, but perhaps the greatest sportswoman India has ever produced.
- Playing her first international tournament in 1999, she represented India at the World Junior Championship at Jakarta
- Sania’s major boost came in 2002 when Leander Paes decided to take her as his mixed doubles partner at the Asian Games. The duo went on to win the bronze medal. Her rise has been steady since then
- In 2003, a 16 year old Sania made the nation proud by becoming the youngest and first ever Indian to win the girls’ doubles junior Wimbledon tennis championship
- This came after a long haul of 51 years when an Indian girl figured again in the final of a Grand Slam. The last Indian woman to feature in a grand slam before Sania was Rita Dabur. She finished runner-up in the singles event in 1952
- A winner of 21 International Tennis Federation (ITF) titles, Sania became the first Indian woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam event
- At one point of time in her career she was the highest ranked female tennis player from India. Sania was ranked 27 in singles and 18 in doubles
Awards, rewards and felicitation started coming her way from early teens. Sania was named in the “50 Heroes of Asia” by Time in October 2005. In March 2010, The Economic Times listed her in the “33 women who made India proud.” Sania was also appointed as the UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador for South Asia in 2013. One of her biggest honours came in 2016 when she was named in Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
One of the fittest Indian players to grace the tennis court, Somdev Devvarman shocked the world when he announced his retirement on 1st January 2017.
- Somdev grabbed the spotlight for being the only collegiate player to have made three consecutive finals at the NCAA, winning back-to-back finals in his junior and senior years
- The lad from Tripura created history when he reached the final of the Chennai Open 2009 as a wild card entry. He became the first Indian to do so
- In 2010, Somdev won the Gold medal in the Men’s Singles event of Delhi Commonwealth Games
- He followed it up winning both Men’s Singles and Doubles Gold at the Asian Games in Guangzhou, China
- In 2009, Davis Cup campaign Somdev was successful in winning both his matches against Chinese Taipei
He got a wild card entry into the 2011 Australian Open, but ended up losing to Tommy Robredo in the first round. The following year, he was once again awarded a wild card entry. This time it was for men’s singles event, at the London Olympics. Somdev Devvarman for his contribution to Indian tennis fraternity was presented with Arjuna Award.
Even if these 7 legendary Indian players may have retired or are on the verge of retirement, India still has some bright prospects. Rising up through the ranks are, Yuki Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Saketh Mayeni. Hope these future stars make India proud just like the legendary Indian tennis players mentioned in our story.