By Qaiser Mohammad Ali
New Delhi, Feb 7 (IANS) Tennis legend Akhtar Ali, who passed away on Sunday aged 81, was a “great person” and we had a “good rapport”, said Jaidip Mukherjea, his Davis Cup doubles partner and former national champion.
“He was a great person. Our rapport was very good. I last met him about two weeks ago; he was not keeping well. He had dementia, and probably knew that his days were numbered,” former national champion Mukherjea told IANS from Kolkata, also the home city of Ali.
“He was three years older than me. We started playing tennis together as youngsters, at South Club here in Kolkata, and we, along with Premjit Lall, practiced together at the club. He was my Davis Cup teammate and my Davis Cup coach. He was a national champion before I became one. On my first tour of England he was there with me as a player,” said 78-year-old Mukherjea.
Remarkably, Ali never lost a doubles match in Davis Cup in the five years that he played the world’s premier team competition, starting 1958. He played eight Davis Cup ties, and out of seven singles matches, he won five. But his most striking statistic is that he won all four doubles matches, for which he formed a formidable doubles pair with both Mukerjea and Lall.
Ali was later appointed the non-playing Davis Cup captain and also coached the Indian Davis Cup team.
“He was a fantastic coach; he was a good player also. But his coaching achievements are much better. He has coached top players like Ramanathan Krishnan, Ramesh Krishnan, myself, Vijay Amritraj, and Leander Paes, all of them,” Mukherjea pointed out.
Ali won the Junior National title in 1955, at the age of 16. He was conferred the Arjuna Award in 2000.
He passed away at around 2.30 am on Sunday at his residence in Kolkata, his daughter Nilofer, who was at his bedside, told IANS over the phone from Kolkata. His burial is scheduled to take place at Sola Ana graveyard in Khidirpur, Kolkata, after Asar namaz, the last one before sunset.
Zeeshan, son of Ali and a former Davis Cup player and non-playing captain, was in the national capital conducting a tennis camp when he heard the news. His sister said he was on his way to Kolkata and was expected to reach there before the burial.