India will complete 75 years of Independence this year. Here is a series acknowledging 75 great sporting achievements by Indian athletes. Sportsstar will present one iconic sporting achievement each day, leading up to August 15, 2022.
A first for Indian tennis at Wimbledon 1960
Ramanathan Krishnan beat Luis Ayala of Chile 7-5, 10-8, 6-2 in the men’s singles quarterfinal at Wimbledon on June 28, 1960 to become the first Indian to reach the semifinal of a Grand Slam tournament.
Seeded seventh, Krishnan went down to top seed and eventual champion Neale Fraser of Australia 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 in the semifinal clash. A year earlier, Krishnan had defeated Fraser – the reigning US Open champion – to win the Queen’s Club tennis tournament.
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Tennis legend Ramanathan Krishnan and his wife Lalitha Krishnan on the natural grass court (patterned on those at Wimbledon) at their home in Chennai.
Krishnan had a tough start to his Wimbledon campaign and took five sets to beat Australian qualifier John Hillebrand in the opening round. He took another five sets to beat Spain’s Andres Gimeno in the second round before sailing into the fourth round with a breezy victory in straight sets over Germany’s Wolfgang Stuck. The 23-year-old had to fight hard in another grueling five-setter against South African Ian Vermaak to earn his first quarterfinal berth at a Major before he could script history against Ayala.
“It is 60 years ago [but] my memories are fresh. I remember everything. In those days, Wimbledon used to give seedings only to the top eight in a draw of 128 and I was seeded seventh for the first time. That way, I didn’t have to meet a seeded player till the quarterfinals. That was a big advantage,” Krishnan told Sportsstar in 2020.
“I remember more Indians started coming to Wimbledon courts when I was winning match after match. I saw a lot of Indian faces, Indians living in England. The Indian crowd went up in numbers. I got all the Indians to Wimbledon,” he added.
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What makes his historic feat more remarkable is that Krishnan was out of action for nearly two months as he was suffering from chickenpox and wasn’t at his physical best ahead of The Championships.
“Due to chickenpox, I was quarantined for three weeks. I went to England without playing much tennis. Actually, I practiced only for 2-3 days before Queen’s Club. My first two matches [at Wimbledon] against John Hillebrand and Andes Gimeno went to five sets. I just scraped through. But that gave me confidence,” the maestro said.
He would repeat the feat at Wimbledon in 1961, losing to the legendary Rod Laver of Australia 6-2, 8-6, 6-2 in the last four after beating Roy Emerson 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 in the quarterfinal.
Rod Laver of Australia (right – nearer camera) in action against Ramanathan Krishnan in the semifinal of the All-England Lawn Tennis Championships at Wimbledon on July 5, 1961.
Krishnan’s tryst with Wimbledon dates back to 1954, when he became the first Indian to win a junior Grand Slam title. He was also a member of the 1966 Davis Cup team which gave India its first runner-up finish after it lost to Australia in the now-defunct Challenge Round.