Sportstar Archives: Ramesh Krishnan - Far from the modern crowd

In the cut and thrust of hard competition in a dollar rich world, very few would care to appreciate either the antiquity of relics or their timeless charm ; charm such as Ramesh's fluid, effortless style represents, Nirmal Shekar writes...

Published : Apr 03, 2020 09:02 IST

Indian tennis player Ramesh Krishnan during an interview at his residence in Madras.
Indian tennis player Ramesh Krishnan during an interview at his residence in Madras.

Indian tennis player Ramesh Krishnan during an interview at his residence in Madras.

AS a professional tennis player in the post-modern era of the 80s and the 90s, he is an anachronist.

John McEnroe, who always believed in calling the pits the pits and the peak the peak, described him as a "relic of the game." But in an age of pile driver forehands, wide-bodied racquets and 140mph serves, relics such as Ramesh Krishnan are an endangered species. In the cut and thrust of hard competition in a dollar rich world, very few would care to appreciate either the antiquity of relics or their timeless charm; charm such as Ramesh's fluid, effortless style represents.

As it appeared in the print edition

Yet, remarkably enough, through a dozen years when the game has steadily revolted against his very style and has galloped so far away as to make his game look hopelessly outdated, Ramesh has not only survived in the pro game but lias also found considerable success in major events such as the Grand Slams and the Davis Cup. For 11 years, starting in 1980. Ramesh finished in the top 100 and in four of those years he ended up in the top 50, reaching a career high of 23 in January 1985. It was only last year. wlien he was troubled by poor form and injuries, that Ramesh dropped out of the top 100.

He did not win a single title in 1991; his last title win came in Schenectady in August 1990; and suffered several first round losses before the ankle injury on the eve of the Wimbledon championship added to the gloom.

However, in his 15th year as a professional, Ramesh seems ready to make a serious attempt at regaining a top-100 spot. He says he is looking for one more good run near the home bend, as it were. A final charge, perhaps.

And he seems to be playing well enough ; from the evidence of a few good victories on the circuit this year and from his form during the India-Indonesia Davis Cup tie at Jakarta recently; to be able to do that. Of course, for someone who will be 31 on June 5, and who is a father of two lovely daughters; Gayathri and Nanditha ; it is not going to be possible to go through the grind week in and week out, 52 weeks a year. Now, Ramesh's priorities are the Grand Slam events and the Davis Cup, and spending as much time as possible with his family, his wife Priya and the daughters.

Indian tennis player Ramesh Krishnan posing for photograph at the entrance of the house in Madras.

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To be sure. it is a bit of a jugglery; reconciling family life with the demands of the ATP Tour. But Ramesh has successfully juggled for a few years now and he knows the end is not far away and that he has to put in his best through the last few years as a professional player. And he is prepared to do just that.

After the Jakarta tie, Ramesh spent a few days in Madras with his parents before leaving for Florida to train, ahead of the grass court season in England. During his stay in Madras, Ramesh found time to talk about his career, his goals, his plans for life-after-tennis and a variety of other issues to The Sportstar .

Excerpts from the interview:

For the first time in more than 10 years, your ranking dropped out of the top 150 last year. How do you find the experience of having to qualify for the main ATP Tour events and playing in Challengers?

In the early part of the year it was a little frustrating. But I still find that I enjoy playing. Anyway, last year I knew this was coming when I took a long break. In a way, I feel if I can go through it I'll come out the better for it. The other thing is, what is the alternative?

But I must say I've seen the other side too; landing up on a Sunday and playing the main draw straight. You take small, small things for granted. But now the new situation has made me appreciate things a lot more.

As a teenager, you didn't have to spend much time in the Satellite and Challenger circuit before making it to the top. Do you think the competition is much tougher for today's youngsters?

There are more people playing the game today. I mean, more players are ranked now than ever before. Then again, most of the top players; guys like Michael Chang, Boris Becker and many others never spent much time in the Satellite and Challenger circuit. In my case, I played four or five tournaments in 1979 and I was ranked 120 or something. But in 1978 I did play a few Satellite events.

Now, after all these years, it is difficult for me to analyse if the circuit (Challenger and Satellite) is tougher these days and if I can do the same thing if I were a youngster breaking in today. All I can say is that, if you are good you'll make it. This is the same in any era.

If I may rephrase that question and look at it from another angle..... how would you compare the No. 200 player of the late 70s with the one ranked at the same number today?

Well. earlier this year, Stefan Edberg (then No. 1) lost to Robby Weis who was ranked 280 or something at the Lipton international. In the Davis Cup, Edberg lost to Nestor of Canada, who is also a lowly ranked player. All I can say is, 10-15 years ago, the world No. 1 would not have had much trouble against such lowly ranked players. I don't think the same thing happened to Jimmy Connors or Bjorn Borg. From this point of view, the No. 200 or 250 player of today is certainly better than the No. 200 or 250 of 12 or 15 years ago.

Ramesh Krishnan is nearly 31 and is in his 15th year as a professional. He enjoyed a career high ranking of 23 in world tennis in January 1985, but has now dropped out of the top 100, owing to a very bad 1991. Ramesh's priorities now are the Grand Slam events and the Davis Cup, and spending as much time as possible with his family.

After watching you in the Davls Cup tie in Jakarta, it seems to me that your playing form has improved from last year. Is your immediate goal now to get back into the top 100 as quickly as you can?

The ankle injury during last year's Wimbledon (he withdrew from the championship before his opening round match against Richard Krajicek) affected me for the rest of the year. I played a few matches in Sao Paulo (Davis Cup) but I was still not in good condition. In a way, I am starting afresh again. And top 100 would be a nice goal, really. The important thing for me is to be able to play Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. I enjoy playing there. And qualifying is no fun; doing it week in and week out. But I think, realistically, you have to give yourself enough time to reach goals. You can't rush it.

You will be 31 in a few weeks. What are your career goals now? What is left for you in the game?

I would like to have one more run of matches. I feel, at. this point of time, that 1 have played many years of tennis and it may not be possible for me to compete week after week with the youngsters. But I still feel I have some tennis left in me. All I want to do is to cut down on my travelling. But then, it's a fine line. You can't afford to play too little either.

Looking back at your career, are you satisfied with what you've done; twice quarterflnalist at the U.S. Open, once at Wimbledon, key member of the team that made the Davis Cup final in 1987? Or, are there any regrets?

If I look at tennis, guys like Borg, Connors and McEnroe... they are the real champions. I don't think I was in their league. But I feel I have had some kind of success in the majors. I definitely feel I could have done better. But I am not going to brood over this. I am fortunate to have had the opportunities that I had and I am thankful for it.

What do you see as the high points of your career? What single thing has given you the most happiness?

Without doubt it is the Davis Cup final. The victory over Wally Masur in the semifinal against Australia was a high point. In my wildest dreams I didn't think I'd be playing in a Davis Cup final. But in terms of a single match victory, I think I will remember the Masur match best.

Watching you' play doubles in Davis Cup in the recent times, it looks as if you have missed out a bit in not playing doubles on the circuit. Will be be a matter of regret after your playing days?

I agree I should have played more doubles. But I am not going to regret it. It is one of those things. I was not pushy enough, I guess. I didn't go out of my way to find a partner. As for Davis Cup, it is a lot easier to play only the two singles matches but I have enjoyed playing doubles.

Of all the top players you have played and seen for over a dozen years on the circuit, who would you rate 1) the toughest to play, 2) the best and 3) the most talented?

For me, playing Lendl was the toughest. He didn't give me much of a chance. He had too much power, both on serve and in his groundstrokes. I have never played Becker but Lendl always pinned me back even on my serves. The best player, for me, in terms of results, will be Bjorn Borg. And the most talented, no doubt, is John McEnroe. I still remember the 1981 U.S. Open quarterfinal against him when I led by a set and was up a break in the second. Looking back, that was the closest I came to making a Grand Slam semifinal.

There is so much talk everywhere, including in the ITF and ATP council rooms, about power tennis these days. And one of the top exponents of the power game (Jim Courier) is ranked No. 1. Where do you think the game is headed; more and more power?

Two things have happened. The equipment has changed. Younger players have a great advantage. At 15 or 16, they are able to play with 24-year-olds. Another thing is, there is a whole generation now brought up on hard courts. Hard court (all kinds synthetic hard courts) is not a surface that helps finesse that much. No chips, no dinks, no lobs. You basically have to keep the ball deep. Andre Agassi is a good example; take a good swing at it each time.

To arrest this trend, is it right to tamper with the basic laws of the game?

I don't think what they are contemplating vis a vis the let rule is such a good idea. The game won't be better if they did that. That's not the problem, really. I think the ruling body did not have the foresight to see what they were letting in when the new racquets were allowed. They should have stuck to the wooden racquets.

The advent of the powerful new racquets.... do you see this as something that has hastened your drop in rankings. A touch player like you is liable to be blown off the court by a power merchant, no matter your sublime skills.

I was happy with the wooden racquets for a long time. I've not tested all the equipment as much as the others. I was one of the last to switch. But a racquet can help only so much. But I won't put down my drop in rankings entirely to the advent of powerful racquets. I did quite a bit with the new racquets.

Anyway, if you look at the top players today, not many are playing with the wide bodied stuff.

For me, playing Lendl was the toughest. He didn't give me much of a chance. He had too much power, both on serve and in his groundstrokes. I have never played Becker, but Lendl always pinned me back, even on my serves.

But now a whole generation has grown up on wide bodies and when they take over they'll bring a new set of strokes; no drops and lobs surely.

At Wimbledon this year, if your request for a wild card is turned down, you may have to qualify. Leander Paes and Zeeshan Ali will also be in the qualifying event. This is the first time in many, many years that no Indian is in the main draw (last year, Ramesh was in the main draw before pulling out). What does this say about Indian tennis. Do you see this as a period of transition?

In a way it is not good. From the Indian point of view, Wimbledon is the highlight. This is definitely not good. We guys have to set an example for the kids. Now it's up to Leander. If he can go on playing Wimbledon for 10-12 years, then you can look back and say 'Okay, that was a period of transition.'

What needs to be done in Indian tennis? Is the All India Tennis Association doing enough?

We don't have the infrastructure to support everybody who is playing. Unlike the West where everyone gets enough court time, we don't have enough courts. We have to pick a few players from each centre and give them all the opportunities. Tennis is a sport based in the cities and we have to give the best players among the youngsters all that they need. As for the AITA's role, I don't know what their schemes are. So I cannot comment.

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At the end of the day, how do you see yourself contributing to Indian tennis, if at all. The bane of Indian tennis is that there are very few people with international experience to work with the kids.

I don't want to put any labels on it (vis a vis roles). But I'd definitely like to help youngsters, spend time with them, give them directions. Something like a coaching school will tie me down too much. I can't cut myself off from the outside world completely. But the time that I spend in India I'd like to be involved in tennis. And Madras will certainly be my base because I want my elder daughter (Gayathri, aged 3) to start going to school here.

Ramesh with his father Ramanathan Krishnan.

While on the subject of coaching, how big an advantage was it for you, being the son of Ramanathan Krishnan? After all, not every kid will be able to check on technique and other things with one of most accomplished players in the game...

I think most Indian players are very good in the fundamentals of the game. Coaching in India has no problem here. What we lack is the physical aspect. As for me, it was my grandfather (the late T. K. Ramanathan) who coached me in the early years. He was very good in the fundamentals of the game. At different stages of my career, my father saw the next step and helped me a great deal. Being his son was a letter of introduction everywhere. And I must say, looking back, he made the right moves.

Talking of your father, how would you compare yourself with him as a player?

It is difficult to compare players of different eras. But surely he had many more wins over the top players of his time than I have had in my time.

What is the toughest part of being a pro past age 30? Is it the travelling or the training, or a bit of both?

I think the toughest part is staying away from the family for a long time. This is the difficult part. You realise you have to organise yourself better. When you are young, tennis is the only thing and you can hang around the courts for any number of hours. But now you don't want to waste much time. Also, when you are over 30, you often play within yourself ; you don't want to get injured. You fear injuries much more. When you are young, you think you are indestructible.

Tough as the circuit is for someone over 30, you find yourself committed to Davis Cup too. How much longer will you commit yourself to playing for India?

Well, as of now, I'm definitely playing in September (against Britain in India). Next year also I'd like to play. But beyond that.... I don't want to look that far ahead right now.

You have been playing on the same team as Leander Paes for more than a year now. Have you noticed any improvements in his game since you first started playing with him against Indonesia at Jaipur last year?

He has certainly improved. But I have not seen too many of his matches. I thought he played a good 5th match against South Korea (at Delhi) last year. But in doubles, I think we have done well together. I feel we complement each other well. What I lack he has and what he lacks I have.

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Where is Leander now as a pro? What does he need to do to break into the top 100?

He needs to get a lot more consistent. He is not a big server but given his style he has to win his points at the net. The crux of his problem is, how he is going to get to the net. He has to find the right combination.

Once your playing days are over, will you consider becoming India's Davis Cup captain, if the job were to be offered to you?

Certainly, yes. That will be nice. It will be a nice way to stay in touch with the game and do something for Indian tennis.

(The interview first appeared in the Sportstar issue dated May 30, 1992)

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