Tennis in India is governed by the All India Tennis Association or AITA which was established in the year 1920. It is noteworthy to mention that over the years, the Indian Davis Cup Team has been the most successful Davis Cup Team all across Asia finishing as runner-up on three occasions in 1966, 1974 and 1987. Indian teams over the years have beaten the likes of Spain, Belgium, and the Netherlands in Davis Cup encounters.
Mohammad Ghaus was the first Indian tennis superstar who made it to the quarter-finals of the Wimbledon Championships in 1939 only to lose to eventual champion Bobby Riggs. From the 1960s, Indian tennis started to make rapid strides with the likes of Ramanathan Krishnan, Jaidip Mukerjea and SP Mishra winning laurels both at the individual level and at the team level, especially in Davis Cup matches. In the 1970's it was the turn of the Amritraj brothers, Sashi Menon and Jasjit Singh who took over the mantle.
The 1980s saw the emergence of Ramesh Krishnan, a second generation tennis player. Later, it was the likes of Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza who have made the country proud by winning Grand Slams. The impetus on carrying forward Indian tennis lies in the hands of youngsters like Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Adil Kalyanpur, Sumit Nagal, Saketh Myneni, Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan.
We dive into the history books and take a look at 10 of the best Indian tennis players of all-time:
Note: The order in which the names appear is not indicative of the scale of ranking.
Florida born Delhi lad, Yuki Bhambri made headlines in the late 2000's when he became the Junior World Number 1. He won the 2009 Australian Open Junior Championship. Coming from a family of tennis players, which include his siblings Ankita, Sanaa and Prerna, Yuki took to tennis at the tender age of 6. Sporadic Challenger trophy wins and a double medal tally at the 2014 Asian Games followed his rise to the Junior World Number 1 ranking in 2009. Having made the Australian Open main draw in 2015, Yuki cracked the Top 100 for the first time in October that year. His career-best ranking of 88 came in November 2015. 2016 and 2017 saw him slip out of the top 100 owing to a string of injuries. 2018 was a good year for Yuki as he qualified for the main draw of the French Open and Wimbledon for the first time and beat the likes of World Number 12 Lucas Pouille. Still only 26, Yuki will look to come good in 2019.
# Somdev Devvarman
After graduating in psychology from the University of Virginia in the year 2008, Somdev Devvarman turned pro in 2008 having tasted considerable success at the NCAA level tennis tournaments. The 2009 Chennai Open was Somdev's best ever performance in an ATP event as he beat former World Number 1 and two-time Chennai Open champion Carlos Moya and also took out Croatian giant Ivo Karlovic. He would finish as runner-up. The year 2011 was a momentous one for Somdev as he reached the 4th round of the BNP Paribas Open - an ATP Masters 1000 event for the first time. That year Somdev attained a career-high ranking of World Number 62. In his professional career which culminated in 2017, Somdev has managed to log wins against the likes of Sam Queerey, Marin Cilic, Janko Tipsarevic, Marcos Baghdatis and Milos Raonic.
# Rohan Bopanna
Kodava lad Rohan Bopanna has been an evergreen presence on the Indian Davis Cup Team for more than a decade. A doubles specialist, Bopanna achieved a career-best of World Number 3 in Doubles in the year 2013. His partnership with Pakistan tennis player Aisam ul-Haq Quereshi was a highly productive one with the pair dubbed 'Indo-Pak Express' finishing as runner-up at the 2010 US Open. In the year 2010, the duo won 4 Challenger Tournaments and 5 ATP World Tour events. In November 2012, Bopanna won his maidnd ATP Masters trophy in Paris partnering Mahesh Bhupathi. Bopanna won his maiden Grand Slam title at the Mixed Doubles event of the French Open in 2017 along with partner and became only the 4th Indian to do so. At 38, Bopanna is India's highest ranked doubles player.
# Anand Amritraj
The eldest of the Amritraj brothers, Anand was a regular feature of the Indian Davis Cup Team in the 1970's and 1980's. Anand Amritraj was a Doubles expert who made the semi-finals of the Wimbledon Championships of 1976. The Amritraj brothers lost to the eventual winners. Anand was also part of the Indian Davis Cup Team which made the finals in 1974 and 1987. Anand also had stints as non-playing captain of the Indian Davis Cup Team.
# Ramesh Krishnan
The son of the legendary Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan rose to prominence in the late 1970's winning the Junior title at the French Open and Wimbledon Championships. At the senior level, Ramesh reached the quarter-finals at Wimbledon once in 1986 and the US Open twice in 1981 and 1987. Krishnan reached a career-high ranking of World Number 23 in 1985. Krishnan was a part of the 1987 Indian Davis Cup Team which finished runner-up to Sweden. At the 1989 Australian Open, Krishnan claimed the biggest scalp of his career as he beat World Number 1 Mats Wilander. Krishnan served as the Captian of the Indian Davis Cup Team in 2007.
# Sania Mirza
The only woman to make the list is the Hyderabadi girl, Sania Mirza. For 11 years from 2003 to 2013 until her retirement from Singles, Sania Mirza was ranked the Number 1 Indian tennis player. Her career took off in 2005 when she was all of 19. She made the 4th round of the US open that year - her best showing in Singles category in a Grand Slam tournament. Having attained a career-high ranking of World Number 27 in SIngles in the year 2007, Sania finally decided to quit Singles to focus on her Doubles game. She managed to log wins over the likes of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Marion Bartoli, Martina Hingis and Victoria Azarenka. Post her singles retirement, Sania forged a successful partnership with Martina Hingis in doubles. The pair won 3 Grand Slam titles in all the Grand Slam tournaments barring the French Open. Mirza has also won 3 Grand Slam Mixed Doubles titles - 2 with Mahesh Bhupathi and one with Bruno Soares. She is the only Indian woman to have ascended to the top of the WTA Doubles ranking.
After having missed the 2018 season due to pregnancy, Sania Mirza will look to get back to winning ways once the 2019 tennis season kicks off.
# Vijay Amritraj
The first Indian player to turn professional, Vijay Amritraj was the mainstay of Indian tennis in the 1970's. Vijay made headlines when he made the quarterfinals of the Wimbledon Championships in the year 1973. He beat 7th seeded Australian Owen Davidson in the fourth round. In the quarterfinals, he lost to eventual champion Jan Kodes in an epic 5 set clash. What followed in the second half of the season was another quarter-final appearance at the US Open. In the third round, Amritraj claimed the biggest scalp of his career as he beat the great Rod Laver in 5 sets. He lost to another Australian Ken Rosewall in the quarter-finals. Amritaj was part of the Indian Davis Cup team which made the finals in 1974 and 1987. In 1981, Amritraj again matched his best result at a Grand Slam event making the quarter-finals of the Wimbledon Championships for the second time. He lost in the quarter-finals to Jimmy Connors despite having a 2 set lead. Amritraj attained a career-high ranking of World Number 16 in that year.
In his career, Amritraj registered wins against some of the top players like Bjorn Borg, Jimmy Connors, Rod Laver, Brian Teacher and John McEnroe. He had an impressive 5-6 win-loss record against Connors.
Post retirement, Amritraj has had a successful acting career. Amritraj is also a well-known tennis expert has been the 'Voice of Wimbledon' in the Indian sub-continent for over three decades. Currently, Amritraj is the President of the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association and has big plans to host a WTA tournament in Chennai in the next couple of years.
# Ramanathan Krishnan
Ramanathan Krishnan was without a doubt the greatest tennis player that India produced in the Amateur Era. In 1954, Krishnan became the first Asian player to win the Wimbledon Boy's Singles title beating legendary Ashley Cooper in the final.
In 1959, Krishnan beat Rod Laver in their Davis Cup encounter. Lance Tingay ranked him as high as World Number 6 in 1960. Krishnan entered the Wimbledon Championships that year seeded 7th. He made the semi-finals losing to eventual champion Neale Fraser. The following year he repeated his heroics as he made the semi-finals of the Wimbledon Championships again only to lose to eventual champion Rod Laver. Despite being the 4th seed in 1962, an ankle injury forced him out of the competition that year. Krishnan was part of the Indian Davis Cup team in 1966 which finished runner-up to Australia in the final. He was awarded India's 3rd highest civilian award - the Padma Bhushan in 1967. His son, Ramesh Krishnan, emulated his father by winning the Wimbledon Junior Singles title and gained prominence as the pre-eminent tennis player from India in the 1980's.
# Mahesh Bhupathi
Mahesh Bhupathi made headlines in the year 1997 as he became India's very first Grand Slam winner as he along with his Japanese partner Rika Hiraki won the French Open Mixed Doubles title. In the late 1990's Mahesh forged a successful partnership with another one of Indian tennis gems - Leander Paes. Although their relationship turned four years later, the duo were one of the most formidable doubles pairs of all-time. They made the finals of 3 Grand Slam Tournaments in the year 1999 winning two of them at the French Open and Wimbledon Championships. This propelled Mahesh to a World ranking of Number 1 - the first ever Indian to achieve this feat. Mahesh in addition to his 4 Grand Slam Doubles titles, won 8 Grand Slam Mixed Doubles titles with 7 different partners. After having retired from the sport in 2016, Mahesh became the non-playing captain of the Indian Davis Cup team following Anand Amritraj's resignation.
# Leander Paes
The most accomplished Indian tennis player of all-time is Kolkata's Leander Paes. With 8 Doubles and 10 Mixed Doubles Grand Slam titles, Paes is the only Asian athlete to have won a career slam across both categories. In his early days, Paes was also a gifted Singles player winning the Bronze Medal at the Atlanta Olympic Games of 1996. Leander has competed in 7 consecutive Olympic Games from Barcelona in 1992 to Rio de Janeiro in 2016 making him the only tennis player to ever do so. With 43 wins in Davis Cup matches, Leander Paes ranks at the top with players with most Doubles wins in Davis Cup matches. At the age of 43, Leander completed his career slam in Mixed Doubles at the French Open of 2016. He is the only player along with the legendary Rod Laver to have won the Wimbledon Championships in any of the 3 categories in 3 different decades. In close to 3 decades of tennis, Leander has partnered with 121 male players and 25 female players. At the age of 45, Leander may be looking at one final hurrah at the Tokyo Olympic Games of 2020. His commitment and dedication even in his 40's is truly inspiring.