Jul/11

22

Biofile with Vijay Armritraj

Status: Former ATP professional tennis player.

DOB: December 14, 1953 In: Chennai, India

Tennis Inspirations: “My childhood tennis inspirations were Pancho Gonzales followed by Rod Laver.”

Hobbies/Interests: “Movies, movies and movies. Followed by other sports. And hanging out with my boys comes at the top of the list.”

Favorite Movies: “Different genre of movies of course, but probably up top would be Sound Of Music.”

Musical Tastes: “Very much of the older, The Beatles are easily my favorite group by a long shot.”

Nicknames: “The Madras Monsoon – which Bud Collins dubbed me many years ago. When I first made it, comments like ‘The hottest thing to come out of India since curry.’”

Early Tennis Memory: “I started playing tennis because of health. I wasn’t well as a child growing up. I spent a lot of time in the hospital and the doctors wanted me to play outdoor sports, so I got into tennis. The greatest moment of my early career was at 13 1/2 years old, winning what would have been the U.S. NCAA championship for college players. And everyone was well over 18-19 years old. And I won that as the first schoolboy to ever win it. (Remember the final?) Yeah, I was down 4-6 5-7 11-9 6-2 6-4. It was in five sets in 110 degrees heat. Dying of cramps and came out in five sets.”

Favorite Meal: “Indian, Indian and Indian [smiles].”

Favorite Ice Cream Flavor: “Haagen Dasz vanilla with hot fudge.”

First Job: “My entire career I’ve been extremely busy being unemployed [smiles].”

First Car: “Mercedes. (Color?) Chocolate.”

Pre-Match Feeling: “I always approached the match not worrying the opponent who I was playing but more concerned about what I should do and what I would do. And if I did it well, knew the other guy was in trouble. And the way I played my tennis was much more on a level of my performance, it depended on me, which is why I did beat the McEnroes, the Connors, and the Borgs. And Newcombe and Smith and Ashe and those guys. And I also lost to guys I shouldn’t have lost to. Below me in the rankings. But rankings don’t matter to me. Wimbledon and Davis Cup mattered most to me, in my entire tennis career. And when I went out to play it was all just me.”

Greatest Sports Moment: “I think there were two or three of them. The very first one came when I was 18. I won the Indian national championships for the first time. I won the singles, my brother (Anand) and I won the doubles, and my younger brother (Ashok) was in juniors. All in the same day. Christmas Day in 1972. And we went home with four titles of what we could possibly win, we won all four. And we became the first family of Indian tennis at that time.”

Most Painful Moment: “Would be on the court, it would be having the opportunity to probably win Wimbledon and not doing it. Eventhough I felt I had a chance in ’73. My best chance probably.”

Funny Tennis Memory: “Constantly laughing. Tennis is something that I enjoyed immensely. I had great passion for it. It was a form of entertainment that I could never substitute. It gave me more in my life that I could have possibly imagined. Whatever education I could have possibly had. And if I had to change anything over my career, I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Closest Tennis Friends: “It was my brother actually. Because he traveled with me everywhere. We traveled 25 years on the Tour together. I never got real close with anyone else. But I remained good friends over the years with all the other guys in my age group.”

Funniest Players Encountered: “Ilie Nastase was hysterical. Hysterically funny – 99% of the time, that one or two percent he went overboard. But our era of guys were exquisite characters. There was Eddie Dibbs, Harold Solomon and Stan Smith on the one side and these guys on the other side and Nastase on the one side. And Henri Leconte on the other side. There were different kinds of people who were just unique to the sport.”

Toughest Competitors Encountered: “Well, it depends on who was difficult for you to play. I found McEnroe my toughest opponent, though I did beat him a couple of times. I had better success with Borg and Connors. (Why was it so hard to play McEnroe?) I think first and foremost, because he could really hit four spots on the court. Very cleverly but with the same ball toss. It was hard to read it.”

Childhood Dream: “Always wanted to be a doctor. Always wanted to be able to serve people. Always wanted to be able to help people in difficulty. And it has come full circle when my mother finally said to me one day, hit enough tennis balls in the court and some university will give you a doctorate. And they did – one of the oldest universities in India. But after years of serving the United Nations as a Messenger of Peace, as an ambassador traveling the world, being able to raise awareness and bringing help to people less fortunate than we are – that’s what I wanted to do very much in the first place.”

Davis Cup Memory: “Against Argentina, Davis Cup, 110 degrees in the shade. 1987, down 2-1. Having played four hours the first day and four hours the second day. And the guy I was playing on the third day – the first match to keep us alive in the Davis Cup – had the day off. And he was in the world’s top ten (Martin Jaite). I was 34 years of age. And there’s no way I should have been standing up there. Against this guy who’s much, much better than you. I’m at the retirement stage of my career. And I’m playing this guy Martin Jaite from Argentina. And it was going to be a cakewalk. It was so hot. At the end of my career I hadn’t played hardly any singles matches at all. He won the first set 6-3, he wins the second set 6-3. He’s up 3-0 and love-40 on my serve. It’s over. People are walking away. I somehow squeeze out the third set. We come in for the ten minute break – my manager, the doctor, everyone said to me: You’re completely out of it, you’re done, let’s call it. I said, The only way I’m leaving here is with the paramedics. I’m going to be carried out. That’s the way it’s going to be done. And I was down two match points in the fourth and won 6-2 in the fifth. And we reached the finals of the Davis Cup that year. And that was just the first round [laughs]!”

People Qualities Most Admired: “I like the stories in the newspaper, I like to see stories about where tennis players have more to give and more to offer, than going out there and showing their skills, which already they’re exquisite in. And one thing that people like about Federer, Nadal, Agassi, Kuerten, Djokovic, that have shown to the rest of the world that you can be great at what you are but still be able to give freely to the less fortunate.”

Career Accomplishments: Winner of 16 career ATP singles and 13 doubles titles; Achieved a career-high ATP singles ranking of #16 in 1980; Reached QF at Wimbledon in 1973 and 1981 and also at U.S. Open in 1973 and 1974; Scored five career wins over Jimmy Connors in 11 matches; Defeated a peak John McEnroe in the first round of Cincinnati event in 1984; Helped lead India to Davis Cup finals in 1974 and 1987; Earned over $1.38 million in career prize money.

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9 comments

  • Sakhi · July 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm

    Terrific and thanks for this, Scoop. For those of us growing up idealising Vijay (the only singles player after the Krishnan family) to actually be a significant presence in tennis, this interview brings up a lot of memories. Vijay is now also one of the most revered commentators in India and the U.S. crew could learn a lot from his astute and measured commentary. I had the pleasure of listening to him while watching Wimbledon in India this year. Unfortunately, I don’t think Indian tennis will ever have an ambassador like Vijay again (no disrespect here to Somdev, Sania and the doubles peeps). Vijay, as you know, now lives in Los Angeles, and does lots of charity events for his foundation in India.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · July 22, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    I heard Vijay commentate on the tennis channel and he is fantastic at it, such a joy to listen to, of course he’s very intelligent, knowledgeable, good voice, and at times his enthusiasm and excitement come out. So cool to hear a commentator enjoy a great point like Vijay does. From his Biofile, some of his efforts as a fighter on the court are amazing to hear about, especially in Davis Cup. The name Vijay Armritraj is a legendary name in tennis annals.

  • Michael · July 23, 2011 at 7:04 am

    I’ve seen Prakash a few times at the USO qualies and Vijay (I think it is Vijay) is always there supporting him. Prakash is old school serve and volley so it’s interesting to watch because it’s so rare these days.

  • Author comment by Scoop Malinowski · July 23, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    Master P is the moniker Prakash goes by, saw him in Newport a few years back and he had custom shirts with Master P inscribed on them. Havent’ seen him around any draws in a while though.

  • Gans · July 25, 2011 at 1:25 am

    I enjoyed the Vijay Biofile. Vijay is such a true champion. In a nation where cricket is the one and only sport getting all the attention, the achievements of select athletes such as Vijay and the Krishnans in tennis and Anand Viswanathan in chess (to name a few) are amazing to say the least.

    Speaking of chess does any of you follow the world of pro chess? Anand is the current world champion and in cricket, India is #1 and the world champions. In tennis, although we have Bhupathi and Paes, we haven’t had a great singles player since Ramesh Krishnan who reached a career high of # 23 I guess.

    Brad and Cliff were talking about the Krishnans (during Somdev’s match against Fish yesterday). Having born a little later, I haven’t had a chance to watch a single match of Vijay or Ramesh. If they are appreciated to such an extent by everyone, I wonder why Tennis Channel wouldn’t show any of their classic matches against the very best. Do you know where I can grab a DVD of these stars?

    Thanks.

    Gans

  • Michael · July 25, 2011 at 7:29 am

    I never much liked watching Vijay but Rasmesh was among my favorites. Especially his Rosewall-like backhand.

  • Dan Markowitz · July 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    Yes, Krishnan was cool, but clearly not the player Vijay was. I liked watching Vijay. He had that stately way about him. I never saw him argue with umpires and he was skinny, but graceful in the Stan Smith, Arthur Ashe-mold. But he seemed to be a player capable of great upsets, but never big slam runs.

  • Michael · July 25, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    You say stately (true) but I found his game boring.

    It was a time when guys like Borg and Vilas came along and changed the game with their whipping topspin. They had cool shots. Vijay was so classical in his shots and his game I found him boring.

  • Sakhi · July 26, 2011 at 3:49 am

    okay, peeps, Ramesh may have been the more stylish of the two, but he made a mockery of fitness and mobility. The chap was fondly called the Idli King in India (meaning he ate too many idlis (yummy south indian food that is round and fluffy) and kinda looked like one himself. If only he had spent some time (a la Fish) taking on a gluten free diet (Novak got it from Mardy, remember?!), he would have been so much better.
    I’ll take the Amritraj bros anyday.

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