Swede memories from Vijay's book

Indian legend recollects his duels against Mats Wilander and Stefan Edberg

Swede memories from Vijay's book

The rumours of World No 1 Novak Djokovic’s potential presence for Serbia’s World Group Play-off over this weekend against India had sent the tennis fans in the City into hyperbole.

Tickets were sold out for all three days even before a formal announcement in the media could be made while there was a manifold demand for complimentary passes for the September 12-14 tie at the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association Stadium.

With the withdrawal of Djokovic, the scampering for tickets and passes has come down. But 29 years ago, not just one but two of the finest players in the world at that time -- Stefan Edberg and Mats Wilander -- travelled to Bangalore for the quarterfinal clash against India. Sweden won 4-1 on a hurriedly laid grass surface to benefit the hosts’ game but the crowd had their fill watching two of the all-time greats in flesh and blood.

“You can’t build a perfect grass court in just two months,” Vijay Amritraj told Deccan Herald, recalling the events of 1985. “On a scale of 10 (for a perfect grass court), it probably would have been five. But I thought if we had any kind of chance, it only had to be on that surface. That’s why when we played them two years later in Sweden, they made no mistake. They put us on a clay court and beat the hell out of us (in the 1987 final at Gothenburg),” said Amritraj, who is in the City to launch his wine of India collection -- ‘Vijay Amritraj Reserve Collection.’

Amritraj was the biggest star in the Indian squad that also had his younger brother Anand and Ramesh Krishnan. “Anand and I were obviously playing at that time and Anand is now the captain of the team which is very exciting to see him there. That tie was so unique in that Sweden had by far one of the best Davis Cup sides ever assembled together from anybody. (Mats) Wilander, Anders Jarryd, Edberg and Joakim Nystrom... It couldn’t get bigger than that.”

Amritraj felt that if he had pulled off the win against Jarryd in the opening singles, things could have been different. Amritraj lost a hard-fought match 6-3, 5-7, 6-2, 3-6, 4-6. “Granted that the surface was a little bit more in our favour when they came to India, but still they were far superior to us. We still pushed them to a point where the win could have happened. Honestly, in my opinion, the turning point in that tie was the first match that I played against Anders Jarryd. I won the first set and I was up 5-4 in the second and serving for the set. Had I won that game for two sets to love, we could have been in the driver’s seat. It would have put a lot more pressure on them in the doubles. And doubles as it is I came back the next day, it was another for four and half hours match against Edberg and Jarryd. And I beat Wilander the next day (in reverse singles).”

During that tie Amritraj’s son Prakash was just one year and three months’ old and was a regular presence on the court. “I remember, he had a baby racquet then. I would roll the ball from one side and he would sweep it back to me. Somebody took a picture and it came out the next day in the paper with a caption that ‘will Prakash ever play Davis Cup for India?’ And 20 years later to the month, India played Sweden again in Delhi. Wilander was the non-playing captain and Prakash led India. I was on the court with him coaching or whatever and they ran pictures side by side from 20 years ago. That was a special moment for me because that doesn’t happen often. Wilander actually mentioned it in his captain’s speech that Vijay should be very proud of the fact that his son is leading India as his father did it 20 years ago. That was a great moment.”

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