The passport to non-playing captaincy!

Commendable team spirit... Anand Amritraj with the Indian Davis Cup team.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

“The team chemistry and team spirit within this team is one I have not seen since the 80s,” Anand Amritraj, the non-playing captain of the Indian Davis Cup team, tells K. Keerthivasan.

He holds an Indian passport even though he is stays in California for the most part. And Anand Amritraj received a pleasant surprise when he was asked by the All India Tennis Association last year to be the non-playing captain of the Indian Davis Cup team. The first thing the AITA reportedly asked Anand was whether he held an Indian passport and the moment he said “Yes”, the partnership was on. “I was speechless with excitement,” he said.

A year has passed in his association with the Indian Davis Cup team and Anand is living his dream (“I always wanted to captain the Davis Cup team.”)

Even though India lost to Serbia 2-3 in the World Group play-off match in Bangalore, Anand reiterated that the team played beyond its capacity, as it has done throughout his one-year tenure. “It was great. The first year was phenomenal. The team chemistry and team spirit within this team is one I have not seen since the 80s,” he said. “From the first match against Chinese Taipei to Korea and now, the team has performed beyond expectations. We still have a long way to go.”

Anand has been a successful doubles player winning 12 titles on the pro tour and scripting some magnificent victories with his younger brother Vijay in the Davis Cup. His biggest achievement was helping India reach the Davis Cup final twice, in 1974 & ’87. Anand has played 62 Davis Cup matches, with a 21-14 record in doubles.

ANAND AND BROTHER VIJAY AMRITRAJ forged a wonderful partnership during their playing days.-R.RAGU

In fact, he made his debut against Sri Lanka in 1968 as a 16-year-old and played till 1988 (his last tie was against Yugoslavia, world group first round). “Playing the Davis Cup will be my proudest and happiest days of my life,” Anand said.

And playing with his younger brother, Vijay, was enjoyable and one, he said, he would cherish all his life.

“It was amazing fun to have somebody that you knew so well travelling with you and practising with you. We did everything together.” Anand said tennis being a lonely sport, it is difficult to strike partnerships and make friends on tour, so having a brother who had a lot in common turned out to be a win-win situation for both. “When you are alone, it is no fun. When you try to develop a close friendship with somebody whom you are going to (play against) and beat, it doesn’t work. It is difficult to develop close and lasting friendships (on the tour). Maybe after your playing days are over. With Vijay, it was very easy. We loved to have Indian food every night. We had the same kind of sleeping pattern. It worked out extremely well. I had somebody to travel with me for many years. Otherwise, it could have been very difficult and I am sure Vijay would have said the same thing,” Anand said.

Recalling his experiences of the team’s progress to the final in 1974, Anand drove home the point of “home court advantage” in a humorous manner. India defeated Japan 4-1 in Kanpur, edged past Australia 3-2 in Kolkata and beat Russia in Pune 3-1 in the semifinal before forfeiting the final to South Africa. “We played the Japanese in May in Kanpur where hot winds were blowing in from the desert. The Japanese came in on the first day and collapsed. We knew we had them. We were happy as we had a critical match coming the very next week in Kolkata against the Aussies. It was rare to play such a back-to-back Davis Cup match.”

Japan returned the favour next year when it hosted India in December in extremely cold temperatures. “The spectators were wearing blankets and sitting on heaters! The temp was zero degrees outside. We were so lucky to get past them. Home-court advantage is home-court advantage, it’s been done before. It was what we tried to do here (Bangalore),” Anand said.