THE KING OF ACES

Vi­jay Am­ri­traj re­vis­its 12 mem­o­rable mile­stones

India Today - - CONTENTS - By PRACHI BHUCHAR

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

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