Former Davis Cup captain Naresh Kumar passes away

Naresh Kumar
Naresh Kumar. File photo: PTI

Kolkata: Naresh Kumar, who famously mentored a young Leander Paes as India's Davis Cup captain, has passed away.

He was 93. He is survived by his wife Sunita, son Arjun, and two daughters -- Gita and Preah.

"He was suffering from age-related issues since last week. I was told that his chance of survival was not very good. I've lost a great mentor," Jaidip Mukerjea, who made his Davis Cup debut under Kumar's captaincy, told PTI.

Born on December 22, 1928, in Lahore in the undivided India, Kumar began his tennis journey at the Asian Championships in 1949 before ruling the Indian tennis along with Ramanathan Krishnan for close to a decade in the 1950s.

His made his Davis Cup debut in 1952 and went on to captain the side.

Three years later his biggest career high came when he made the fourth round of Wimbledon in 1955 before losing to the eventual champion and American No. 1 Tony Trabert.

As an amateur, Kumar has played a record number of 101 Wimbledon matches.

He won five singles titles in his career -- Irish Championships (1952 and 1953), Welsh Championships (1952), Essex Championships at Frinton-on-Sea (1957) and at the Wengen tournament in Switzerland the next year.

He played his final tournament at the Asian Championships in 1969.

In 1990, Kumar as a non-playing captain played a key role in including a 16-year-old Leander Paes in the Davis Cup team in their match against Japan and the rest, as they say, is history.

Kumar, clad in white trousers and T-shirts, was a calming influence during some India's greatest Davis Cup years.

An emotional Kumar ambling towards Ramesh Krishnan to hug him after his iconic fifth rubber win against France in Davis Cup quarterfinal in Frejus (France) remain a fond memory for all Indian tennis lovers.

A recipient of Arjuna Award, Kumar became the first tennis coach to receive Dronacharya Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000.

"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 'Uncle Naresh' got the Dronacharya.

Mukerjea recalled how he started his tennis career looking up to him at the Calcutta South Club.

"He was already a top player when I started playing tennis at the age of 12-13. Premjjit Lal and I looked up to Naresh in our formative years."

"Whenever we came back from Tours, he has helped us a lot in our formative years. I made my debut under him against Thailand in 1960.

"It was Naresh and myself as (Ramanathan) Krishnan was down with chicken pox. He helped me a lot with my game. Later on we became very good friends."

A true gentleman and always neatly-dressed, Kumar was also a well-known sports commentator-cum-columnist, successful businessman, tropical aquarium fish breeder, art collector and horse racing aficionado.

He was also very close to former chairman and managing director of Tata Steel Russi Mody.

"Apart from being a tennis player, he was also a very good tennis writer, a commentator before the days of TV," Mukerjea recalled.

"I vividly remember, he was not in the team in 1956 when India played Australia in in the Davis Cup final in Melbourne. He did commentary in Hindi and English," he added. 

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