THE KING OF ACES
Vijay Amritraj revisits 12 memorable milestones
He Is Dressed In A Double-Breasted Jacket,
sand-coloured pants and a cravat, looking every inch a gentleman. You may be used to seeing Vijay Amritraj wield his racket on court but in this avatar he is playing a role in the 1983 James Bond film Octopussy. This is just one of the many hats Vijay Amritraj has donned. Think Indian tennis and 63-yearold Vijay Amritraj’s name comes to mind, by virtue of his being one of the finest tennis players the country has ever seen. He was the closest India had to a tennis super star; our chance at top prize on the finest courts in the world. In fact, in the 70s, when he was at the height of his career, Amritraj and his contemporaries, Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors, were referred to as the ABC of tennis. Born and brought up in Chennai, Amritraj started playing tennis to strengthen his lungs (he spent much of his childhood battling lung disease). Many wrote him off as a sportsman because of this but he was determined to play the best tennis India had ever seen. Today, 25 years after he bid his competitive racquet goodbye, Amritraj is still busy drawing people to Wimbledon through his insightful commentating. Over the years, he has shifted gears successfully, making a name for himself outside of the courts, as an actor, sports commentator, UN Ambassador and a successful entrepreneur as well (he even has a collection of wines names after him; the Grover Zampa Vineyards' Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection which was launched in 2014). As we meet him on a hot morning at the Delhi Gymkhana Club he looks relaxed. He is here in collaboration with watch brand Rolex to support the Road to Wimbledon initiative that will take India’s top tennis juniors after a stringent qualifier to the Road to Wimbledon Finals at the All England Club in August. Amritraj shares his 12 most memorable milestones, his association with and love for Rolex and other personal achievements that make him the man he is.
1 First Major Victory
When I was in my final year at high school I won the collegiate tournament. I was just short of turning 14. It was the month of May, seasonably hot and I won in five sets. Everyone else was much older than me. This led me to thinking I could do it, that I must have belief in myself to become a tennis player.
2 National Championships, 1972
In 1972 I played the National Championships in Calcutta. I was just 18 and I ended up playing 19 sets over two days. This made me believe further that this was my calling and I needed to exploit my full potential for myself.
3 Indian Open, Delhi Gymkhana, 1973
My greatest memory of this place (Delhi Gymkhana Club) is of my first major victory in 1973, right here at the club. It was the first ever Indian Open which was the precursor to Chennai open. In both the semis and finals I was down badly in the fifth set but went on to win.
4 Beating Rod Laver
I reached the quarterfinal of the US Open in 1973 and 1974 and the quarterfinal of Wimbledon in 1973 and 1981. Along the way I defeated greats like Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and John McEnroe. In 1973 I went on
to beat Rod Laver in the US Open and this put me on the world map. The rest as the say is history.
5 The Days Of Davis Cup
Leading India into two Davis Cup finals in 1974 and again in 1987 was an incredible milestone for me and second to none. I was 20 when I first did it and 33 the second time. I don’t see it happening today and this remains one of my proudest achievements.
6 Newport Hall Of Fame Tournament, 1976
I won the Newport Hall of Fame Tournament in 1976 and as a prize, I was gifted my first ever Rolex which was a yellow gold Rolex Day-Date 36. It has been 40 years since but that watch has not left my wrist. It is very special to me and it was also the start of a wonderful relationship with a brand that I connect with and represent even today.
7 Highest World Ranking
In the summer of 1980, I reached my highest career singles ranking of World No. 16. This is one of those milestones that stays etched in my mind forever.
8 Winning The Padma Shri
In 1983, I won the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in the country. It was extra special because it was in recognition of my contribution to Indian sport and enhancing the country’s image overseas.
9 Love For The Screen
In 1983 I got an opportunity to achieve yet another personal goal and act in a film. I got a role in the James Bond film Octopussy and it was a fantastic experience.
10 Messenger Of Peace
I was appointed United Nations Messenger of Peace on February 9, 2001 by Secretary General Kofi Anan and as a UN ambassador my work took me around the world to create awareness about drug abuse and HIV. This was a special association and one I cherish even today.
11 Giving Back To India
I set up my foundation in 2006 and this was very important to me as I wanted to help those children who were less fortunate. I grew up with bad health but my mother made me who I am so I decided that if I could help make a difference in the lives of other children in India I would.
12 Biggest Personal Milestone
My family means the world to me. My greatest success is if my children Prakash, a former tennis player, and Vikram, a lawyer, call me every day.
IN FINE COMPANY Amritaj in the 1983 Bond film Octopussy with the late Roger Moore