Updated: July 1, 2020 00:12:28
For the past 60 years, Ramanathan Krishnan often met people who gave him the photographs they had taken of him at the Wimbledon Championships in 1960.
He helped the 83-year-old build a good collection of precious polaroid moments that captured his historic run to the semifinals of the Wimbledon men’s singles. It was an undertaking that would repeat the following year. No Indian before or after has gone so far in singles at the Grand Slam.
Equally certain, however, he would meet people who would also ask for those black and white photographs. Krishnan would obey, guaranteeing his fans a piece of memorabilia. He has reached a point where he no longer has photographs for himself.
“But I have my memory,” he jokes.
In the blink of an eye, it starts putting together events from June 20, 1960 to July 1, 1960. But it starts a year earlier.
“To understand what happened to Wimbledon in 1960,” he says, “we have to go back to the 1959 season.”
“I have had a very positive year and have won many tournaments, including the United States Championship, on hard courts (at the time the Grand Slam had been played on grass). Due to the victories, I had reached no. 3 in the world rankings. “
That run was supposed to bring him a seed in Wimbledon the following year. At the time, the Grand Slams only had eight suits in the singles draw, unlike today’s 32.
“This meant that you would only meet a seeded player in the quarterfinals,” explains Krishnan, who in 1954 became the first Indian to win a Junior Grand Slam event when he conquered the Wimbledon crown.
“So of course, the value of being a seeded player was very high. It is almost similar to receiving an advantage at home in a Davis Cup game. “
Locked in quarantine
In Wimbledon, the seventh seed had been named – the first time he had ever been granted a seed in a major. But his arrival in England came at a time when Krishnan was not physically in the best condition.
“In April of that year, a few months before Wimbledon, I went with the Indian team to Thailand for a Davis Cup game, but I had to retire because I had gone down with chicken pox,” he recalls. “I was stuck in a quarantine for 14 days in a Bangkok hospital with no chance of training. Just as I recovered, I had to run back to Madras (now Chennai) because I would have to get married. And I come from a very religious family, so we had to visit several temples in the coming weeks. That meant no tennis. “
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When June arrived, Krishnan managed to play a Davis Cup game in the Philippines before going to England for his honeymoon. And Wimbledon.
He reached England later than he would have liked, leaving little room for many tuning events – which had become even more important since he had taken the time to recover from his illness.
At the event in Queens, where he was the defending champion, Krishnan lost in the quarterfinals against Spaniard Andres Gimeno. His next game would have been at the Grand Slam itself.
“The only thing I had to do for me,” he says, “was that I was a seed player. But not much match fitness.”
In the first round, he ran into the little known Australian qualifier John Hillebrand. But Krishnan struggled to find any rhythm, managing to win the game in the fifth set.
“I was very nervous during that game,” he explains. “I knew I wasn’t in good physical shape and that I hadn’t played much tennis lately. So the shots weren’t going well for me. I could have easily beaten him on any other day, but now I was struggling. I just managed to browse it in the fifth. “
The following day, he played a five-set double game, paired with compatriot Naresh Kumar against the American duo Butch Buchholz and Chuck McKinley.
“It was a long game,” he says. “Well over three hours. But we played at Center Court, and it gave me the chance, more than anything else, to have good practices. Find some form and rhythm. Even though we lost that game, I felt much better in my game. And that helped me prepare for singles. “
In the second round, Krishnan faced Gimeno. He lost the first set and dropped 0-3 in the second when he noticed that people were starting to leave the stadium.
“I had lost to Gimeno in Queens a week ago. So people thought it would end soon, “he says.” It was then that I tried to draw inspiration from my doubles game and from the 1959 season which was very good for me. I started fighting and I won each of the next 12 games. “
He ended the five-set game against the Spaniard – who went on to win the 1972 French Open – before seeing German Wolfgang Stuck in three quick sets.
In the fourth round, the Indian played another tough five setter against South African Ian Vermaak, winning 3-6, 8-6, 6-0, 5-7, 6-2. This meant that he had reached a Slam’s quarterfinals for the first time in his career. And now he would come across seed players, starting with Chile’s fourth Luis Ayala seed.
Ayala, Krishnan’s four-year-old senior, had twice been a French Open finalist, losing the 1960 title game just over a month earlier. He also had never lost to the Indian before, and was coming to the game as the coolest player who had played only one five setter in four games compared to the three who had taken Krishnan in the distance.
But by now the Indian had found its shape. He held out and got a win in three long sets, winning 7-5, 10-8, 6-2, to become the first Indian to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam.
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But once that thought started, the nerves too.
“Somehow these thoughts have just started coming to my head, which are in a semifinal,” recalls Krishnan. “I kept thinking I was playing one game from the final. And then if I win it, I will be champion. I should have stayed calm and composed. But instead, I let myself be surprised. Even the one against someone I had beaten so many times before. “
In the semifinal, he ran into another senior player – Australia’s best seed Neale Fraser. At the time, Fraser was the reigning champion of the US Open and had won 10 doubles (seven in men and three in mixed). Furthermore, the reigning world n. 1 was in good shape.
“I had beaten Fraser to win the Queens title a year earlier. And I beat him many more times on the tour, ”says Krishnan. “Throughout my career, I would only lose with him twice. Once in Wimbledon, and then to the Davis Cup. This was a strange thing for Australians. They would lose the games on the tour, but the ones that matter, the bigger ones, would play at a level you’ve never seen before. “
At Center Court, in windy conditions, Fraser’s already great service started to get more fanfare.
“I just couldn’t manage it. I was already nervous and I let the opportunity reach me. My shots were all closed and I wasn’t playing freely. But even if I wanted to, there was too much to serve, ”adds Krishnan.
His run would end there in the semifinals after losing 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 against a player who would eventually continue to win the championship.
Hero and pioneer
But Krishnan had done enough. Back in India, his success was celebrated in a way he never expected.
“I was asked for interviews and award ceremonies everywhere,” recalls Krishnan. “There was so much love for me. I played well, but I also performed well when I was on tour. So maybe that’s why there was more respect for me. “
A whole generation of Indian tennis players have grown up idolizing it.
In a previous interview with The Indian Express, Vijay Amritraj – the only Indian player apart from Krishnan Ramesh’s son, to have reached the quarter finals of an Open Era Grand Slam – remembered having beaten Krishnan in the citizens’ final of 1972 as a nineteen year old who has yet to make his mark.
“This was the main turning point in my career,” he said.
Krishnan, a year later, stumbled upon the same obstacle at Wimbledon 1961, this time for the great Rod Laver. But by now, he had already established himself as one of the best players in the sport.
If one asks him today, on the 60th anniversary of that great race in England, what Wimbledon 1960 means to him, what it meant for his career, it doesn’t take long to answer.
“I’m 83 now,” he says, the excitement unmasked in his voice. “It’s something that happened 60 years ago and we’re still talking about it. I have a good memory of it, in my mind, no photograph. I remember it well. So yes, it meant everything. “
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