Left: Early 1930s. Right: Probably 1950
My grandfather K.M.Subba Rao's name was a famous one in the Mysore tennis circles esp. between 1920 and early 50s when he played and also thereafter. There were his four old racquets lying here and there, neglected, because two had tattered guts and weak 'necks' and the other two were fit to be thrown out. One of these two appeared 'playable' though having signs of warping. Racquet guts in those days were from cows!
The great man was no longer playing when I arrived. But the last I saw him wield his racquet was during late 60s. It was against a wall in our living room standing 4 feet from it to show a little me how to hit half-volleys.
I got it restrung just to get kicks from using my famed grandfather's racquet! I was warned that the frame was weak and would not withstand the tension of stringing anew and that it would break. It did break, despite being framed down. But I had played a few sets with it and fulfilled the desire! This was in 2002 or so.
Cricket was my game but I had begun to play tennis just for fun and fitness, in 1984 at the CFTRI courts, being an 'insider' there. Vintage 'pavilion' and lovely setting at CFTRI courts. I wonder why no one thought of spending a film or two during play at that time!
Since none of my grandfather's racquets were in usable condition, my friend's father Maj. Hemachandar [also my Biology lecturer in College] gifted me his 'Dunlop Maxply'. I started playing with this.
I was a very inconsistent player and tried to use power with this racquet! I had a strong serve, but only if it landed properly! I could place the ball well and could run and retrieve any ball. The backhand was my nemesis. Often I wished for baselines to be farther, the tramlines wider, the net, shorter and my racquet head very wide! I enjoyed playing and hitting aces though. And I had fun with my slow second serve. The load was too much on the shoulder which was already doing the job of bowling long spells in cricket. It gave way. I had tendinitis. Slightly faulty technique and the heavier racquet went hand in hand to create this problem. I stopped playing for some months. This was before my memorable lesson-game with veteran Shama Rao. [Click here].
Composite racquets were too costly for me at that time. Another colleague Deo whose son Ajay was a national ranked player, gave me a Symonds Tusker - an experimental model given by the company to him. Four hundred rupees.
It was good, but I did not feel comfortable with its balance. Our cricket club President Mr.K.G.Venkatesh gave me his old Spalding racquet. These were all alternates that would not take me any further in my game. I was the only one using wood! This continued for sometime.
I stopped playing in the early 1990s to allow my shoulder to heal properly. It did not affect my bowling in cricket but it affected throwing the cricket ball.
In 1996, there was our annual tournament. Suddenly I gave my entry, dusted the racquet and went to court after a long gap, totally without practice. I was to play a knock out round. To my surprise, I beat one Gowtham who was playing regularly and entered the league stage, holding my nerve in a close game!! I fared poorly in the league and ended up low-ranked. Now my shoulder was okay and I thought of playing the game again regularly.
I went looking for a lighter, affordable second-hand racquet. I went to Cosmopolitan Club where I knew my English teacher and father's friend S.N.Shankar was a member. In fact, all three forefathers of mine were members of that very old club in their times! Shankar found that V.T.Raman had one for sale. All of them knew my grandfather's achievements in the game in his time as they were all old-timers. V.T.Raman gave me a Pro-Kennex for two thousand rupees. This was in 1998 and my game underwent a change and I felt comfortable with the light racquet. I felt like Ivan Lendl because of my T-shirt design! I loved the smooth game of Ramesh Krishnan.
See there, a wider head!!
I was a threat to many players but they knew of my inconsistency. So I used to end up either #3 or #4, instead of the #2. Ramesh is unbeatable in our group. I even represented our Institute twice, at Pune in 2001 and at Mysore in 2003. I stopped playing again, unable to get enough motivation and time for this beautiful game.
[With Davis Cupper Gaurav Natekar, Pune]
Among the many lovely trophies of Subba Rao this one is my favourite, for its meaningful design.
[Mysore Sports Assosiation, 1933, Runner-up]
From left: BS Dattatri, KM Subba Rao and two others, Cosmopolitan Club, 1952.
Subba Rao partnering Dattatri during a match.
Tennis ball tin. Dunlop.
Two Slazenger tins from different angles. Look for "Entirely made in England" also!
When Mysore Tennis Club was started, he was honoured. 1968. I made a mark for the occasion - literally - I drew a line as I dragged my grandfather's umbrella on the lovely new tennis court on that day!! And I was reprimanded by someone.
My grand uncle K.M.Narain Rao [standing 2nd from right] also played tennis - 1909! U.D.Ranga Rao [extreme left, standing] became K.M.Subba Rao's famous doubles partner later. Also in this picture is Mekkri [Mehkri - of Bangalore's Mehkri Circle fame - an old family in Mysore].
See racquet shapes.
[Maharaja's College Tennis Club]
Even my greatgrandfather Mylar Rao played tennis as early as in 1903. Found some entries in his account book. There were also entries for 're-gutting' of tennis racquets.
In 1906 he had ordered "one pair gents brown canvas tennis shoes" for four rupees!
See the bill.
Game, set and match!
[See 'older post' on Shama Rao, a tennis veteran]