I've played alongside legends like Vijay Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan and Premjit Lall, but I can say without a doubt that Ramanathan Krishnan is the greatest tennis player India has ever produced. His simplicity was what made him a true champion. He got the world to sit up and take India seriously in the sport.
Krishnan was a fierce competitor but had no airs about him. I was a lot younger to him when I came into the circuit so all of us who were of a similar age looked up to him, tried to be as good as him and just wanted to emulate him in every which way. Though he was slow on his feet when you look at the top-level tennis he's played and didn't have a great serve, what he did have was fantastic anticipation. That's very essential for a great player. It's in-born and something that cannot be tutored. He's a really cool-headed guy who never got too excited about things and had an aura about himself when he entered the dressing room.
Since I was junior, initially I was intimidated by him but over time we became really good friends and travelled together a lot on the tour on economy tickets and with close to 10 racquets. We still keep in touch. He's 80 now and I'm 75.
I was lucky to play the Davis Cup final, the first time India made it to one, with him in 1966 and win the doubles rubber. For us, it was a really important tie. Both of us played well but Krishnan was amazing and helped me handle the pressure.
We beat countries like Sri Lanka, Japan, West Germany and Brazil to land in Melbourne to play what was called the Challenge Round in those days. Australia then had the four top players in the world -- Roy Emerson, Fred Stolle, Tony Roche and John Newcombe. We -- Krishnan, Premjit, SP Misra and myself, with RK Khanna as non-playing captain -- were the underdog side. We were like lambs waiting to be slaughtered, and the local press called it, "A Challenge Round without a challenge."
On the first day, we lost both the singles: I lost to Emerson and Krishnan lost to Stolle. We were certain that we just didn't stand a chance the next day in the doubles. The pair of Newcombe-Roche hadn't lost a single match that year. But they lost to us. It was just one of those matches where we just rose to the occasion. That was a special moment for me, to win with Krishnan against the best. What we were really surprised with though was the crowd support. They were cheering and rooting for us, they wanted to see a good fight -- and also a reverse singles the next day maybe. Those days we used to have a 10-minute break after three sets and I remember as we were walking out, Roche asked me, "Are we playing in India or Melbourne?" We won that rubber 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, 6-4.
We eventually lost the tie 1-4 but didn't leave with drooping shoulders.
Krishnan, Premjit and I were called the 'Three Musketeers' then. But Krishnan was a lot more disciplined than the rest of us. He was a complete teetotaller but Premjit and I didn't mind an occasional beer.
Initially it was Naresh Kumar and Krishnan who played together while Premjit and I were a pair. But I got the chance to partner Krishnan in the closing years of his career. I was still finding my feet then. In 1966, we made the Wimbledon quarterfinals as well as won the Davis Cup doubles rubber. He retired two years later.
After retirement he totally moved away from the scene, not hankering for attention or publicity and has been happy doing his own thing away from the public glare.
He's a thorough family man with a good sense of humour. I recall this incident from 1968 when we were playing in Barcelona, a week before the Wimbledon, which entered into the Open era that year. The draw was just out and he'd gotten to know that he was to face the fierce, ruthless and one of the greatest players then, Pancho Gonzales in the first round. Krishnan woke up in the middle of that night screaming for water. Worried, his wife asked him what had happened and he replied that he'd just dreamt of having lost the first set against Gonzales 6-0 on Centre Court. The next morning we all had a hearty laugh at the breakfast table.
(As told to Susan Ninan)
Jaidip Mukerjea was a regular on the international men's circuit from 1960 to 1974, including at all the Grand Slams. He played for India in the Davis Cup from 1960 to 1973.