As the news of Naresh Kumar’s death spread on Wednesday afternoon, members of the Indian tennis fraternity paid their respects to a man who commanded respect with his gentle presence.
Peer and friend Ramanathan Krishnan told The Telegraph: “Am very, very sad. My association with Naresh Kumar was for nearly 70 years. For most of my tennis career, I played doubles with him. We were in the same Davis Cup team and more than anything else we were great friends.”
“His knowledge of tennis was huge and he would always teach you good things. He was a great human being. He also had a tremendous sense of wit. He was always full of humour.”
Ramanathan, one of the most successful Indian tennis stars of the late 1950s and ’60s, said: “He had helped and guided a lot of players. I myself benefitted from his wisdom. He was senior to me and I learnt a lot from him. His inputs were very valuable.”
“I played under his captaincy and so did my son Ramesh. Though his contribution to Indian tennis as a coach and mentor is immense, I think he was a great player too.
“I knew he was ailing for some time. But this news is heartbreaking for me. This is a huge loss for the fraternity.”
Ramanathan’s son Ramesh Krishnan, an icon in his own right, said Kumar was one of the finest captains he had played under. “The news is shocking. I knew him for years, first as my father’s friend and teammate and then my captain.
“He brought together a fantastic Davis Cup team. I was there, Leander (Paes) was there. He believed in us and guided us. He was someone that everyone looked up to.”
Enrico Piperno, former national champion who was a long-time coach of the Indian Davis Cup team when Kumar was the non-playing captain, said: “He was a colossus. I was blessed and honoured to have known him, to have had him in my life.”
Piperno, who is close to the family, used to be a regular visitor at the Kumar household. “Over the past few months, as he grew weaker, I avoided going to his place, scared that I might pass on some disease. But we would talk over the phone. I could feel his voice getting fainter.
“This is such a huge loss to the tennis fraternity. He was revered all around.”
Piperno, in Chennai for the WTA Chennai Open, said: “Everyone remembered him as a gentleman. I was just chatting with Pat Cash. He said ‘Naresh Kumar? That perfect gentleman we used to meet at Wimbledon?’ That was his aura.”
It was Naresh Kumar who insisted on playing a 16-yearold Paes in the Davis Cup against Japan and their fondness for each other is well-known.
“The best teachers teach from the heart and not from the book — Sir Naresh Kumar was my first Davis Cup captain and his wisdom has been the beacon of light in my journey,” Paes had said after his ‘Naresh Uncle’ got the Dronacharya Award.
“A guru, a mentor and a confidant, he gave me the wings to fly and stoked my passion to play for our country.”