Indian tennis great Akhtar Ali passes away

Akhtar Ali passed away in Kolkata on Sunday at the age of 81. 

Akhtar Ali (centre) with son Zeeshan Ali (left) and Leander Paes at the KSLTA in Bengaluru on April 5, 2017. - V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Tennis legend Akhtar Ali, a father figure in Indian tennis, passed away here in the early hours of Sunday following prolonged health issues.

Akhtar was 81 and is survived by his son, current India Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali, and two daughters.

His death was confirmed by a family source as well as a Bengal Tennis Association official.

“Akhtar Ali passed away at 2:30 a.m. at his home. He had not been keeping well for the last few months. He was suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other health issues,” said BTA CEO Sujoy Ghosh.

Akhtar was hospitalised for a few days before being brought back home recently.

He was laid to rest at Sola Ana Kabristan, Khidirpur.

Born on July 5, 1939, Akhtar made his mark in 1955 when he became the National junior champion and reached the junior Wimbledon semifinals.

ALSO READ | Ash Barty wins Yarra Valley Classic

He represented India in eight Davis Cup ties against Pakistan, Malaysia, Iran, Mexico, Japan and Monaco between 1958 and 1964. He played alongside stalwarts like Ramanathan Krishnan, Naresh Kumar, Premjit Lall and Jaidip Mukerjea.

Akhtar, who was groomed by former Australian Davis Cup coach Harry Hopman, also played in the Wimbledon and French Open grand slam events. He was the winner of the Asian mixed doubles championship.

His last ATP tour outing was against Vijay Amritraj in a clay court match in Bombay on November 11, 1974.

A soft-spoken person with a good sense of humour, Akhtar – also a National squash champion in 1968 – was well known as a coach. He was qualified from the NIS Patiala, International Tennis Federation and the United States Professional Tennis Registry.

Also read: Ankita Raina becomes fifth Indian woman to feature in Grand Slam main draw  

He became the coach of the National team from 1966 to 1993. Under his guidance, the Indian team – consisting of Krishnan, Mukerjea, Premjit and S.P. Misra – reached the Davis Cup finals in 1966. India repeated its feat in 1974 with a team comprising Vijay and Anand Amritraj, Shashi Menon and Jasjit Singh.

Akhtar’s coaching influenced many famous players including Vijay Amritraj, Anand Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan, Enrico Piperno, Leander Paes and Somdev Devvarman. He was an advisor to Sania Mirza.

He also coached the national teams of Malaysia (1968-70 and 1991-93) and Belgium (1980-84).

Akhtar was passionately involved in coaching and organising events for grassroots players throughout his life. For several decades he was associated with coaching at the South Club here.

Akhtar was conferred the Arjuna Award in 2000 for his lifetime contribution to tennis.