From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.04 :: Jan. 24, 2009

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TENNIS / DOWN MEMORY LANE

`A likeable personality'

"Premjit Lall had the talent and was definitely the most powerful player at that time. He had done very well, beating all the big names and I think, with more hard work and proper exposure, he could have become one of the top players of the world," says Jaidip Mukherjea, as he reminisces about his former Davis Cup team-mate.

PIC COURTESY: JAIDIP MUKHERJEA

We (Lall & Mukherjea) played a lot of tennis together and our partnership touched new heights of success, be it playing in the Davis Cup or reaching the doubles quarterfinals of Wimbledon (1973), says Mukherjea.

Premjit Lall was two years elder to me. He was very talented, had very good strokes and was physically bigger than me at that time. That's how we started at the South Club as trainees under famed coach Dilip Bose in the 1950s. Premjit had the talent and was definitely the most powerful player at that time. He worked on developing his power. He did a lot of skipping and also a lot of running. Considering his talent, he could have definitely become a better player than what he actually was. He had done very well, beating all the top players in the world and I think, with more hard work and proper exposure, he could have become one of the top players of the world.

Premjit was the Wimbledon junior finalist in 1958. He was the second Indian to reach the final after (Ramanathan) Krishnan had won the event in 1954. I had also reached the final (in 1960) before Ramesh Krishnan (1979) and Leander Paes (1990) won it later. The three of us - Ramanathan Krishnan, Premjit and myself - were lovingly referred to as the `Three Musketeers'. Those ? were the days of amateurism. Tennis was a popular sport in the Western world, but it was restricted to a few clubs here. Considering his talent Premijit would have held his own in the times of professional tennis also.

My recollection of our early days as junior players is quite vivid. I still remember the feeling of triumph I had after beating him for the first time. He used to beat me regularly and when I finally beat him, after losing to him for 10-12 times, it felt like I had climbed a mountain. After that we graduated and played for India in the Davis Cup. We became very good friends and started travelling together to different tournaments. Our friendship also bonded our families together.

Premjit had a very likeable personality. Like his game he had a clean persona and was liked by all around him. He was a genuinely good individual, who was always eager to help. It was his prowess as a big player that keeps appearing to me time and again.

THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY

Premjit Lall & Ramanathan Krishnan, with Rod Laver & Neale Fraser in the background, before a Davis Cup encounter in Massachusetts in 1959.

I think his best in tennis came when he had Rod Laver two sets to love down and 4-4 in the third in the year when Laver won his second Grand Slam (1969). Though Laver came back to win the match, he later acknowledged that the match belonged to Premjit and he was just lucky to have won that day. That was the kind of respect the top players of the world had for Premjit.

His absence has created a void in me, which is impossible to fill. He was confined to a wheelchair after an accident in the early 90s. But the fact that he was present and was in the same city gave me a reassuring feeling all these years.

MD. YOUSUF

Lall, in a wheelchair, with former Davis Cup team-mate, S. P. Misra.

My wife and I made it a point to visit him every year on his birthday on October 20, ever since he was paralysed. He always was mentally very alert even though he had difficulty in speaking.

What I would always remember about him is his big-heartedness. We played a lot of tennis together and our partnership touched new heights of success, be it playing in the Davis Cup or reaching the doubles quarterfinals of Wimbledon (1973). Together, we also figured as the founder members of the ATP, when it was formed in 1972. We were the only two Indians in it then. I still remember giving $50 as the membership fee. We had together decided to lend our support to the movement.

(As told to Amitabha Das Sharma)



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