A Champion Of All Times
SOCIETY|February - March 2019

Society takes tennis legend Vijay Amritraj on a nostalgic journey and his plans as the new President of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association

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Tennis legend Vijay Amritraj stands tall, and unlike many others who achieved great things in life and hung up their boots, Vijay continues the saga of creating more and more milestones. Lately, he was once again elected the new president of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA) at its Annual General Meeting (AGM). For the sagging sport in India, it’s a new ray of hope, indeed!

This former tennis player, sports commentator, actor and entrepreneurhailing from Chennai was the first Indian to turn fully professional in the sport and achieved great heights, representing India in Davis Cup, and playing the Wimbledon against legendary tennis stars like Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl. (He participated in Wimbledon 17 times and reached the quarter-finals. He has also represented India in the Davis Cup on 20 different occasions and qualified in the finals twice.)

Apart from being nominated five times to spearhead the ATP Tour Players Councilas President, this multi-talented sportsman has also been the proud recipient of the coveted Padmashri, Key to the City of Los Angeles and the Pierre de Coubertin awards. He turned actor too and won accolades for his performance in the James Bond movie, Octopussy.

It was a proud moment for the nation when the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan honoured Vijay Amritraj as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.

Vijay has been the most popular tennis commentator for Fox Sports in the US and STAR-TV in Asia. His California-based company, First Serve Entertainment, is a leading multimedia production company that deals with Asian-American content, and helped Disney, Turner and ESPN enter the Indian market.

As soon as Vijay took over the post, he hosted an event, titled, Celebrating Tennis, in which he honoured players. In his own words, it was intended to, “Celebrate the past, encourage the present and inspire the future.”

Can you share with us how things have changed for you in the recent years? I am travelling more than I ever did. I do public engagements. It was nice to see myself on the Cover of GQ as the Global Indian of the year and it has been interesting being a brand ambassador of Rolex, Master Card and Aston Martin. It’s different avatars, so to speak, in different countries. My speaking engagements have increased. Like recently, I had my Foundation’s fund-raising weekend, with which we help different charities in India.

Indian Tennis has not shown any big improvement despite improved facilities being offered. Your comments. It’s a very high bar to reach Davis Cup final. We have been fortunate to have reached the Davis Cup final twice, once in ’74 and again in ’77. I think our boys and girls are working quite hard. Just that their rate of improvement hasn’t been in keeping with that of the West. Also, from a physical stand point, here, the mental maturity of an individual happens sooner than physical maturity. An 18-year-old is more developed physically in the West than an 18-year-old in India. So, if a boy or girl hasn’t done well enough by 17 or 18, they decide to take another path or just play doubles. Things change that way.

How has tennis fared in the past few years?

If you look at the number one and number two in India, they are both from Chennai. That’s a positive as far as the state is concerned. I tend to look at our sport nationally and see how to compete globally. If you want to compete globally, then you have to improve at the global rate. We haven’t done as well as we have in business globally.

What’s your view on ‘coaching on the court’?

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