“I think it was a bad call…The only time we had an excellent chance of winning the Davis Cup we gave it away,” said Anand Amritraj, after the Indian Government opposed India’s participation in the final of the Davis Cup in 1974 which featured South Africa. India refused to play South Africa in protest of the racist colonial rule prevailing in the latter. Thirty eight years hence, and South Africa have never made it to another final, while India have never won the coveted title.
Since 1936, either United States or Australia had won the Davis Cup. In 1974, neither team had made it to the final before. India fancied their chances after beating Australia in their encounter, when a record 327 games were played to determine a winner. There were no tie-breaks, hence the players had to play till there was a difference of two games. India won by a 3-2 margin, but still had to beat Soviet Union in order to advance for the final.
India was leading Soviet Union by the margin of 2-1 after the Amritraj brothers won their doubles tie. Temuraz Kakulia was then humbled by Amritraj in an amazing five-set match and India reached their first Davis Cup final. Vijay Amritraj said: ” It was past the goosebump feeling. This was for a billion people.”
South Africa defeated Italy to reach the final. India’s enthusiasm was short-lived. The final was scheduled to be held in South Africa, which was opposed by the Indian Government. There was a speculation that the final would be shifted to a neutral venue, but a compromise was reached, as India conceded the cup to South Africa, a decision which most sports writers and bureaucrats think came from India’s Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi. The players from both sides were devastated, and there is still no consensus if the boycott was justified.
Cliff Drysdale, who was South Africa’s number one player in 1974, gave up his South African citizenship after growing fed up of representing the country whose governance was unacceptable to the whole world. He was treated as an unwanted guest and had enough of it. Vijay Amritraj backed Indian government’s decision, saying that he was disappointed as a sportsman but felt proud as an individual.
Raymond Moore, a member of South African team then, thought that they would have beaten India fair and square. “I felt then and I feel now that we would have beaten them.” Anand Amritraj felt otherwise, saying: “We would have won 4-1”.
India did reach another Davis Cup final in 1987. Vijay and Anand Amritraj were a part of Indian team then as well, but were thrashed 5-0 by Sweden. The match was played on clay courts, and clearly India was already waging a losing battle since they enjoyed playing on the faster grass courts. The Indian tennis aficionados still feel 1974 was our best chance. We floundered it.