When the grass was greenest for Ramanathan Krishnan in 1960 Wimbledon


Written by Shahid Judge
| Mumbai |

Updated: July 1, 2020 7:24:27 am


Ramanathan Krishnan’s run in the 1960 Wimbledon ended at the fingers of the eventual champion Neale Fraser of Australia. (Express Illustration by Suvajit Dey)

Over the previous 60 years, Ramanathan Krishnan would usually meet individuals who would hand him pictures they’d taken of him at the Wimbledon Championships in 1960.

It helped the now-83-year-old construct an excellent assortment of cherished polaroid moments that captured his historic run to the Wimbledon males’s singles semi-finals. It was a feat he would repeat the following yr. No Indian, earlier than or since, has gone that far in singles at a Grand Slam.

Just as certainly, although, he’d meet individuals who would ask for these black-and-white pictures as effectively. Krishnan would oblige, granting his followers a bit of memorabilia. It has acquired to some extent the place, now, he doesn’t have any pictures left for himself.

“But I have my memory,” he quips.

In a heartbeat, he begins to piece collectively the occasions from June 20, 1960, to July 1, 1960. But he begins a yr earlier.

“To understand what happened at Wimbledon in 1960,” he says, “We must go back to the 1959 season.”

“I had a very good year and won many tournaments, including the US Championship, played on hard courts (the Grand Slam event was played on grass at the time). Because of the wins, I had reached no. 3 in the world rankings.”

That run was anticipated to get him a seeding at Wimbledon the following yr. At the time, Grand Slams had solely eight seeds in the singles draw, in contrast to the 32 of right this moment.

“That meant that you’d meet a seeded player only in the quarterfinals,” explains Krishnan, who in 1954 turned the first Indian to win a junior Grand Slam occasion when he captured the Wimbledon crown.

“So naturally, the value of being a seeded player was very high. It’s almost similar to being given home court advantage in a Davis Cup tie.”

Stuck in quarantine

At Wimbledon, he’d been named the seventh seed – the first time he’d ever been granted a seeding at a serious. But his arrival in England got here at a time when Krishnan wasn’t in the finest situation bodily.

“In April that year, a few months before Wimbledon, I had gone with the Indian team to Thailand for a Davis Cup match, but had to pull out because I came down with chickenpox,” he remembers. “I was stuck in quarantine for 14 days at a hospital in Bangkok, with no chance of getting to practice. Just as I recovered, I had to rush back to Madras (now Chennai) because I was scheduled to get married. And I come from a very religious family, so we had to visit several temples over the next few weeks. That meant no tennis.”

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By the time June got here round, Krishnan managed to play a Davis Cup tie in the Philippines earlier than heading to England for his honeymoon. And Wimbledon.

He reached England later than he would have favored, leaving him not a lot scope to play many tune-up occasions – which had change into all the extra necessary since he had taken time to get better from his sickness.

At the occasion in Queens, the place he was the defending champion, Krishnan misplaced in the quarterfinals to Spaniard Andres Gimeno. His subsequent match can be at the Grand Slam itself.

“The only thing I had going for me,” he says, “was that I was a seeded player. But not much match fitness.”

Tough passage

In the first spherical, he got here up towards little-known Australian qualifier John Hillebrand. But Krishnan struggled to seek out any rhythm, managing to win the match in the fifth set.

“I was very nervous during that match,” he explains. “I knew I wasn’t in good physical shape and hadn’t played much tennis of late. So, the shots were not coming well for me. I could have beaten him easily on any other day, but now I was struggling. I just managed to scrape through in the fifth.”

The following day, he performed a five-set doubles match, paired with compatriot Naresh Kumar towards American duo Butch Buchholz and Chuck McKinley.

“That was a long match,” he says. “Well over three hours. But we played on Centre Court, and it gave me a chance to, more than anything else, get some good practice. Find some form and rhythm. Though we lost that match, I felt so much better about my game. And that helped me prepare for the singles.”

Before the Wimbledon in 1960, Ramanathan Krishnan battled chickenpox in April. (Source: AFP/File Photo)

In the second spherical, Krishnan confronted Gimeno. He misplaced the first set and was down 0-3 in the second when he seen folks beginning to stroll out of the stadium.

“I had lost to Gimeno at Queens a week back. So people thought this was going to be over soon,” he says. “That’s when I tried to draw inspiration from my doubles match and from the 1959 season which was very good for me. I started to fight back and won each of the next 12 games.”

He closed out the five-set contest towards the Spaniard – who went on to win the 1972 French Open – earlier than seeing off Germany’s Wolfgang Stuck in three fast units.

In the fourth spherical, the Indian performed one other powerful five-setter towards South African Ian Vermaak, successful 3-6, 8-6, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2. This meant that he’d reached the quarterfinals of a Slam for the first time in his profession. And now he’d be developing towards seeded gamers, beginning with fourth seed Luis Ayala of Chile.

Historic excessive

Four years Krishnan’s senior, Ayala had been a two-time French Open finalist – shedding the 1960 title match simply over a month earlier. He had additionally by no means misplaced to the Indian earlier than, and was coming into the match as the brisker participant having performed only one five-setter in 4 matches in comparison with the three that took Krishnan the distance.

But the Indian had discovered his type by then. He held on and got here up with a win in three prolonged units, successful 7-5, 10-8, 6-2, to change into the first Indian to achieve the semi-finals of a Grand Slam.

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Jangling nerves

But as soon as that thought kicked in, so did the nerves.

“Somehow these thoughts just started coming to my head, that I’m in a semi-final,” Krishnan remembers. “I kept thinking that I’m one match away from the final. And then if I win that, I’ll be champion. I should have stayed calm and composed. But instead, I let myself get overawed. That too against someone I had beaten so many times before.”

In the semi-final, he got here up towards one other senior participant – high seed Neale Fraser of Australia. At the time, Fraser was the reigning US Open champion, and had gained 10 doubles (seven in males’s and three in blended) titles. On high of that, the reigning world no. 1 was in good type.

“I had beaten Fraser to win the Queens title a year earlier. And I had beaten him many more times on the tour,” Krishnan says. “In my entire career, I’d lose to him just two times. Once at Wimbledon, and then at the Davis Cup. That was one weird thing about the Australians. They’d lose the tour matches, but the ones that count, the big ones, they’d play at a level you didn’t see before.”

On Centre Court, in windy circumstances, Fraser’s already huge serve began to get extra oomph.

“I just couldn’t handle it. I was already nervous and let the occasion get to me. My shots were all closed, and I wasn’t playing freely. But even if I wanted to, there was just too much on his serve,” Krishnan provides.

His run would finish there in the semi-finals after the 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 loss to a participant who would ultimately go on to win the championship.

Hero and pioneer

Alongwith his son Ramesh (L), Ramanathan Krishnan (R) based the Krishnan Tennis Centre (KTC) in 1995. (Source: Facebook/KrishnanTennisCentre)

But Krishnan had executed sufficient. Back in India, his achievement was celebrated in a approach he had by no means anticipated.

“I was being called for interviews and award functions everywhere,” Krishnan remembers. “There was so much love for me. I was playing well, but I was also behaving well when I was on tour. So maybe that’s why there was more respect for me.”

A complete era of Indian tennis gamers grew up idolising him.

In an earlier interview with The Indian Express, Vijay Amritraj – the solely Indian participant aside from Krishnan’s son Ramesh, to have reached so far as the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam in the Open Era – remembered beating Krishnan in the remaining of the 1972 nationals as a 19-year-old but to make his mark.

“That was the major turning point of my career,” he had mentioned.

Krishnan, a yr later, stumbled at the similar hurdle at Wimbledon 1961, this time to the nice Rod Laver. But by then, he had already established himself as one in all the high gamers in the sport.

If one asks him right this moment, on the 60th anniversary of that nice run in England, what Wimbledon 1960 means to him, what it meant for his profession, he doesn’t take lengthy to reply.

“I’m 83 now,” he says, the pleasure unmasked in his voice. “It’s something that happened 60 years ago, and we’re still talking about it. I have a good memory of it, in my mind, no photographs. I remember it well. So, yes, it meant everything.”

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