Madras Musings, 1-15 June 2017:
Recently honoured at the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association’s Annual Day was Madras Tennis’ Elder Statesman, 89-year old P.S. Seshadri. He is the bridge from the past to the present, from the amateur era to the professional era of tennis. In his heyday, he was a flamboyant and forceful champion. Those are days to remember.
On the tennis courts of Ajmer Government College, where his father was Principal, Seshadri, at the age of 10, began his tennis journey. An initial fascination for the game turned into a lifelong passion, one that fueled him to play till he was 80. His game was not of copybook style. He moulded it around a strong forehand which enabled him to hit the ball on the rise, forcing errors from his opponents. He recalls, “I have not had any formal coaching. I developed my game through my own efforts and by watching, experimenting and practising.” His best moments came in the late 1940s, the early 1950s and even continued past 1973, from when he competed as a veteran player.
In 1942 he came from Ajmer to Madras, which was then the hub of tennis activity, offering opportunities to young players to compete in various tournaments organised by colleges, leading clubs and associations. There were also large tennis-loving audiences for State and national ranking tournaments and even local matches. A competition-savvy Seshadri made rapid progress in his game and soon became a recognised player in Madras Presidency.
In 1943, Seshadri joined Presidency College where his tennis further blossomed. Regular participation in tournaments sharpened his skills and he made his presence felt even in senior events.
In 1946, he was selected to play for the Madras team in the Inter-Association tournament, held for the first time in Trivandrum, and restricted to the Madras Presidency, Travancore and Mysore. Though Mysore won the first two years, Madras subsequently took home the trophy over a number of years. In fact, in 1952 Seshadri captained the Madras team which consisted of R. Krishnan, his father T.K. Ramanathan, and V. Ranganathan.
In 1946, the construction of the Corporation Tennis Stadium in Egmore came as a boon to tennis lovers of Madras. In January 1947, the All-India Hard Court Championship was held in this stadium and Seshadri reached the quarter-finals.
The next three years marked an important phase in his tennis career. He became the top Madras University player in 1948-49 when he won the foremost collegiate tournament in Madras – Loyola College’s Bertram Memorial for the Stanley Cup – in 1948 and ’49 and, partnering V. Ranganathan, the Erskine Cup in 1948. Besides steering his college to victory in the inter-collegiate league, he also played a major role in the Madras University team when it won the Inter-University tournament. He has won a string of tournaments, including the Madras Hard Court Championship (twice) and the Mysore State Championship, both national ranking events. This performance catapulted him to No. 1 in Madras Presidency and No. 7 in India.
Seshadri recalls that 1950 was particularly significant owing to the participation of a glamorous roster of foreign players in the Open Championship in the Egmore stadium, including (but not limited to) Gertrude “Gussie” Moran and Patricia Todd (U.S.), Philippe Washer (Belgium), Felicisimo Ampol and Deyro (Philippines), Paish and Oakley (Great Britain), and Robert Abdesselam, the No. 2 in France, who had to fight a long, hard battle to defeat Seshadri.
Seshadri particularly remembers receiving the Men’s Singles Trophy from the Rajah of Bhavnagar, the Governor of Madras, in Ooty which had become a popular venue for tennis tournaments. He also recalls playing in the Mylapore Club tournament in 1953 before a packed crowd of more than a thousand tennis fans!
In 1951, a thirteen year-old player named Ramanathan Krishnan created a sensation by winning the Stanley Cup and started his campaign in the senior events. Seshadri was one of the few Indians to beat him: he did so in their first two encounters. Thereafter Krishnan went places and never looked back. In 1954, Seshadri moved to Calcutta and then Bombay the following year. He won the Calcutta Hard Court Doubles Championship, partnering Naresh Kumar. In the Singles event, he beat everybody but Sumant Misra and Naresh Kumar. In Bombay, his performance was good but not outstanding; however, the next phase of his tennis career began there when he started playing as an over-45 veteran. He was twice part of the Indian veterans’ team that played in the Stevens Cup in New York (in 1973 and 1977, losing to Sweden and Chile respectively).
Later, he won the Bombay Hard Court Veterans (over-50) Championship twice, in 1983 and ’84, beating players from all over India. He went on to win a number of veterans’ doubles both in Bombay and Chennai.
Seshadri was not merely a player, he was also a Councillor of the Maharashtra Tennis Association. He was the organising Tennis Secretary for Bombay Gymkhana Club for 11 years. During this period he conducted the national ranking event – the Western India Championship – several times. He moved back to Madras in 1984 and served as Councillor and Vice-President of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association. Thus, he was literally associated with tennis in various capacities for over 70 years. He was able to see tennis at close quarters as a player, administrator and commentator. He saw clearly the old order yielding place to the new. He belonged to the amateur era where rewards were only in terms of honour and trophies and also vouchers from sports good shops. Outstation players were given boarding and lodging and 2nd class railway tickets at a concession: double journey, single fare! His take on the professional era, which began in 1968, is that it was inevitable when tennis became a full-time occupation requiring adequate compensation.
A third facet of his tennis personality is his commentating. Apart from radio commentaries in the pre-television era (notably for the India-USA Davis Cup tie in Bombay in 1963 and the India-Australia Davis Cup tie in 1973 in Madras), he later became a popular TV commentator. Truly a tennis all-rounder par excellence!
Your email address will not be published.