Right from Ramanathan Krishnan a trailblazer in the 1950s and 60s to Somdev Devvarman who has been the torchbearer of Indian tennis in the second decade of the 21st century, this feature takes a look at the top 10 Indian tennis players, inclusive of singles and doubles.
If there is one person who can be credited for putting India on the global tennis map, then it has to be Ramanathan Krishnan. The man from Chennai made heads turn with his style of play that gave more emphasis towards finesse than power, Krishnan was the first Asian to win the Wimbledon junior title, a feat he achieved in 1954. Wimbledon proved to be his favorite hunting ground as he twice made it to the last four on the grass of SW19, losing on both occasions to the eventual champion. Krishnan notched up a remarkable 50 wins in singles in the Davis Cup and was ranked as high as #3 in the world, two records that stand till date. Krishnan received the Arjuna Award, the Padma Shri and the Padma Bhushan for his contribution to Indian tennis.
Son of Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh was ranked no.1 in the junior circuit and won the junior title both at Wimbledon and the French Open in 1979, a year after he turned pro. His style was very similar to his father’s as he possessed an all-round game with deft touches and graceful strokes.
During his career, Ramesh won 8 singles titles and reached a high of 23rd in the world.
The year 1986 was the best in his career by far, as he won two titles, in Japan and Hong Kong. The Hong Kong triumph included wins over Jimmy Connors, Pat Cash and Andres Gomez.
Ramesh was a part of the 1987 Davis Cup team that reached the finals along with the Amritraj brothers.
He became the Davis Cup captain in 2007 and was awarded the Padma Shri by the Indian government in 1998.
Vijay Amritraj and Anand Amritraj
The Amritraj brothers paved the way for future stars as they carried Indian tennis on their shoulders en route to leading the country to two Davis Cup finals in 1974 and 1987. Unfortunately, India had to forfeit the 1974 edition of the finals against South Africa due to the apartheid rule that existed. The younger of the two, Vijay had an immensely successful career, overshadowing his brother’s achievements. He reached the pinnacle of his career in 1980 when he achieved his highest ranking of no. 16 in the world. He also won 16 singles titles in his career that spanned almost two decades.
Anand Amritraj on the other hand plied his trade on the doubles circuit where he won 12 titles with various partners, most of them with his brother Vijay. Despite Anand being the better of the two while they were growing up, Vijay left his brother in the dust once they turned professional. Another feather in the cap of the brothers is the semifinal appearance in the men’s doubles at Wimbledon in 1976.
Paes had a blistering start to his tennis career, rising to No.1 in the junior circuit and winning the Junior US Open and Wimbledon titles. Paes then went a step further, clinching the bronze medal in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics by beating Brazilian Fernando Meligeni, despite being hampered by a wrist injury in the match. Paes then focused his attention towards doubles and the move proved to be a turning point in his tennis career.
Paes went on to carve a niche for himself not only in Indian tennis but also in world tennis with his performances in doubles. Paes partnered Mahesh Bhupathi and together the duo nicknamed the “Indian Express” formed a highly successful pair, amassing a 303-103 record together. Their Davis Cup winning streak of 23 is the longest winning streak in doubles in cup history.
Paes has also tasted success in mixed doubles, winning six Grand Slams. His partners in mixed doubles range from Martina Navratilova to Cara Black. Moreover, Paes has played with a whopping 95 different players in men’s doubles.
The other half of the “Indian Express”, Mahesh Bhupathi is regarded as one of the greatest doubles players to have stepped onto a tennis court. Bhupathi holds several records to his name, including that of being the first Indian to win a Grand Slam title (with Rika Hiraki in 1997).
Bhupathi began his tennis career at the University of Mississippi where he was an All-American in both singles and doubles, en route to winning the NCAA doubles championship in 1995.
Bhupathi is known for his huge serves and a strong two-handed backhand. His deft play at the net is an integral part of his doubles game, compensating for his lack of quickness with respect to court coverage. His 12 Grand Slam titles speak for themselves as the man from Bangalore is one of eight select players to have achieved a career Slam in mixed doubles.
Bhupathi has represented the tricolour several times in the Davis Cup as well as other events such as the Asian Games and the Olympics. In recent times, he has been embroiled in a feud with the All India Tennis Federation (AITA) which has marginally tarnished his reputation.
Bhupathi was awarded the Padma Shri in 2001 for his services to Indian tennis.
Mirza was the third Indian woman in the Open era to participate and win a round in a Grand Slam. She became the first Indian woman to be seeded in a Grand Slam event when she was awarded the 32nd seed at the 2006 Australian Open.
Mirza then broke into the top 30 in 2007 with strong performances during the summer hard court season.
In her singles career she has beaten quite a number of top 10 players, including Martina Hingis, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Nadia Petrova and Marion Bartoli.
The recent past has witnessed Mirza focusing on doubles, having retired from singles with a respectable 271-161 record. The move has paid off as she is currently ranked no.9 on the WTA doubles circuit, having reached a personal best of world no. 7 in 2012.
She has also won two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles, both with Mahesh Bhupathi.
The man from Coorg began making waves on the domestic circuit and then in the ITF Futures circuit, reaching a career-best world ranking of 213 in 2007.
But his claim to fame comes from his success on the doubles circuit, where Bopanna has a career-high ranking of 3.
Bopanna partnered Pakistani tennis player Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi and together the duo were nicknamed the “Indo-Pak Express”. The partnership yielded 4 titles including a Masters 1000 title at the BNP Paribas Open.
Bopanna has also partnered Mahesh Bhupathi with the pair winning 2 titles and finishing second best in four finals.
Bopanna was also a part of the controversy between the AITA and Mahesh Bhupathi, with both players refusing to partner Leander Paes at the 2012 Olympics in London.
Bopanna’s favorite playing surface is grass and he made a semifinal appearance at Wimbledon in 2013 partnering Eduardo-Roger Vasselin. The duo fought valiantly for 5 sets before bowing out to eventual champions, the Bryan brothers.
Devvarman has been the harbinger of hope for Indian tennis in recent times, with the Indian consistently figuring in the top 100 bracket of world tennis. Somdev set the ball rolling in his tennis career with appearances in futures tournaments in 2002.
He then went to USA where he played for the University of Virginia. His most memorable moment during his collegiate career was his victory over John Isner for the 2007 NCAA championship. Devvarman defended his title next year as he defeated Tennessee’s JP Smith accumulating a 44-1 record on his way.
Devvarman’s exploits on the national front include a singles gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games and two gold medals at the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games.
Devvarman reached a career-high ranking of 62 in the summer of 2011 and is a regular for team India in the Davis Cup having made his debut in 2008.
Rushmi who turned professional in 2005, has won a mammoth ITF Women’s Circuit titles, a record for a female Indian tennis player.
Rushmi possesses a defensive-style of play, sometimes drawing flak for being overly defensive, with experts contending that she could have won more titles with a perfect mix of caution and aggression.
Rushmi has donned Indian colours at the 2002, 2006 and the 2010 Asian Games. Partnering Sania Mirza in the women’s doubles at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Rushmi went on to win the bronze medal.
On a personal front her best moment while representing India was the haul of 4 medals that she achieved at the 2003 Afro-Asian Games, of which two were gold.