Apart from die-hard fans of lawn tennis, few people of our generation would name Ramanathan Krishnan in their list of top Indian tennis players of all time. But during his heydays, Ramanathan Krishnan dominated the tennis scene in India and the world. Krishnan played a pioneering role in making tennis one amongst the few individual sports that are popular in India. He was, in fact, ranked 4th in the world during the pinnacle of his career. Ramanathan Krishnan is a name every Indian tennis fan must know.
Ramanathan Krishnan was born in 1937 in a small village of Tenkasi in Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu. He developed an interest in tennis at a very early age. His father T.K. Ramanathan was also a tennis player and later became his coach. At a match at Talkaltora Club in Delhi, Krishnan witnessed his father make an astonishing comeback against his American opponent after being down 4-6, 4-6 in the first two sets. His father won this match and it left a lasting impression on Krishnan as a young boy. He never looked back and dedicated his time to practising tennis under his father. He soon went on to win many junior titles and even bagged the boy’s singles Wimbledon title in 1954 at just 17 years of age.
“Ramanathan Krishnan was a deceptive and clever player who could beat you with deft touch and uncanny placement.”
– Roy Emerson
Ramanathan Krishnan at Wimbledon & Davis Cup
Lance Tingay described Krishnan’s style of playing tennis as “pure oriental charm” and even ranked him World no. 6 in his amateur rankings. As early as 1959, Krishnan reached the third round of Wimbledon. He is a 2-time Wimbledon semi-finalist (1960 and 1961). He was at world no. 7 seed in 1960. In that year, he lost to Neale Fraser who went on to win the tournament. In 1961, Krishnan reached the semis by beating Australian legend Roy Emerson in a thrilling showdown. But he eventually lost to another prominent Australian player, Rod Laver. The sheer amount of perseverance he showed during these years is commendable. Krishnan received his highest Wimbledon seeding of no. 4 in the year 1962. Unfortunately, he suffered an ankle injury and had to leave mid-tournament.
Ramanathan Krishnan Krishnan was a key member of India’s Davis Cup team for over 13 years (1953 – 1969). Krishnan’s stunning comeback against Brazillian champion Tomas Koch in 1966 was one of the most memorable matches of his career. He won this match against Koch and India qualified for the Challenge Round. Owing to this, Krishnan became known for his tactful drop shots in risky situations. Moreover, Krishnan held the Indian National tennis title for eight years at a stretch.
Meet The Krishnans
Ramanathan Krishnan’s father’s tennis legacy was demonstrated to the world by him. His son, Ramesh Krishnan, followed his footsteps and went on to have an illustrious career. He, like his father, won the boy’s single Wimbledon title at an early age. Ramesh reached three Grand Slam quarterfinals and was crowned the Captain of India’s Davis Cup Team in 2007. Krishnan’s daughter, Gowri, won the Indian National Juniors Championship in 1982 under her father’s training. “Wimbledon is dear to every member of our family. We have followed the championship closely for decades,” said Krishnan in an interview for The Hindu. The Krishnans now own a private grass court at Oliver Road, Chennai. His grandchildren too are smitten by his passion for tennis and often train at their court. They are truly the “first family” of Indian tennis!
Even in this day, individual sports are struggling to gain the attention of the Indian audience, infrastructure from the Government and funding from the sponsors. The Indian tennis scene is comparatively better off owing to the likes of Ramanathan Krishnan who brought the sport into the limelight. Krishnan was not just a stellar performer for India but was also known for his sophisticated demeanour and etiquettes, which are an intimate part of the gentleman’s sport that is tennis. Krishnan received the Arjuna Award in 1961, the Padma Shri in 1962 and the Padma Bhushan in 1967. His contribution to Indian tennis, both on and off the court, will not be forgotten.