Irreparable loss - Jaidip Mukerjea, Enrico Piperno pay tribute to Akhtar Ali

Tennis legend Akhtar Ali passed away in the early hours of Sunday following prolonged health issues.

“Akhtar Sir’s legacy is the many generations of tennis players he has produced. He played some role in everyone’s life… He was a father figure in Indian tennis," said Enrico Piperno.   -  The Hindu Archives

With Akhtar Ali’s death, Jaidip Mukerjea lost a six-decade-old friend and Enrico Piperno his only coach.

Mukerjea and Piperno, Indian tennis stalwarts from Kolkata, paid their tributes to Akhtar. “We knew each other for 60 years. We – I, Premijit Lall and him – practised together at the South Club. Both of them are gone,” Mukerjea told Sportstar.

“It was a long relationship. He was a Davis Cup player, then a coach at the Davis Cup finals. Sadly, he was suffering in the end… Sad day for Indian tennis. He was a good Davis Cup player, but he was a better coach.”

READ: Indian tennis great Akhtar Ali passes away

Mukerjea spoke about his friendship with Akhtar. “We slept on the same bed, travelled together, fought together, but at the end of the day, he was one of my best friends.

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Jaidip Mukerjea, seen here playing at the All England Lawn Tennis Championship at Wimbledon, hailed Akhtar as a dear friend.   -  The Hindu Archives



“When I first went to England to play, he was already there. He showed me the ropes – how to travel and how to do things. We played together in Saigon (in Vietnam) in an invitation tournament and won the tournament there. In the Davis Cup, we played Pakistan in Pune. It was a long journey.”

A father figure

According to Mukerjea, tennis was Akhtar’s life. “He coached from grassroots to national level players. He coached Vijay Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan and Zeeshan Ali. You name a player, and he has coached him. His contribution is unparalleled.”
Agreed Piperno.

“Akhtar Sir’s legacy is the many generations of tennis players he has produced. He played some role in everyone’s life… He was a father figure in Indian tennis,” said Piperno.

“Four years ago I saw him on the courts in the heat and humidity of April. As South Club president, it was very difficult for me to stop him from coaching. He did not take it well initially, but understood later.”

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The victorious Indian Davis Cup team in Jakarta. L to R: Enrico Piperno (coach), Gaurav Natekar, Leander Paes, Naresh Kumar (non playing captain), Ramesh Krishnan and Zeeshan Ali. Piperno took over from Akhtar Ali as Davis Cup coach in the 90s.   -  THE HINDU ARCHIVES



Piperno, who took over from Akhtar as the Davis Cup coach in the 1990s, recalled his childhood days. “After I came to Calcutta in 1971 as a 10-year-old, Akhtar Sir was the first and only coach I ever had. At the South Club, he selflessly dedicated hours and hours to improve our strokes.“Everyone talked about his way of coaching, his one-liners. It was a jovial way of saying things in good spirit.”

Undoubtedly, the loss is irreparable. “Naresh Kumar and I regularly spoke about Akhtar Sir’s health. Today, Naresh Kumar was disturbed (after hearing the sad news),” said Piperno.

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