New Delhi: Stepping onto the hallowed courts of SW19 wearing Bata sports shoes and hand-knit sweater presented by his mother, a racquet presented by none other than Fred Perry after qualifying for 1964 Wimbledon are some of the memories that Shiv Prakash Misra will always cherish.
Set to get the prestigious Dhyan Chand award for lifetime achievement, Misra recollected the good old days when love for the game was paramount and some tournaments were played for a princely sum of 5 pounds per exhibition match.
The 73-year-old Misra, who represented India at the Grand Slams and Davis Cup for years, says qualifying for the men's singles Wimbledon and getting his playing kit from the great Fred Perry are his most cherished moments.
"There used to be best of five qualifiers for Wimbledon at that time and I won three five set matches to qualify. I played with wooden racquet, wore Bata shoes and a sweater knitted by my mother. When I made the main draw, the great Fred Perry came and presented me with his kit, the shoes and a racquet. That without doubt was the most cherished moment of my career," Misra told PTI.
"In those times, players used to get mere 100 pounds and these days the first round loser gets close to 25,000 pounds. We struggled a lot. You could not take more than USD 8 with you while going abroad. Surviving was tough. We used to play exhibition matches to earn some money," he recollected.
"I also played in US National Championships (pre US Open era) after the Wimbledon. Playing at Forest Hill on grass, I reached the third round. The second round I had won 14-12 in fifth set against Ernesto Aguirre and was totally drained against Vic Seixas (US) in the third round. Those were really tough days."
Misra informed that they made 50 USD per week, playing 12 weeks in the United States apart from earning 5 pounds, playing in exhibition matches.
"These days the players have great opportunity to make loads of money and make a career out of tennis."
Misra, who is now the chairman of the selection committee, made his Davis Cup debut in same year, 1964, and began his career with wins in ties Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and Pakistan.
"I made my debut in Hyderabad and won both my singles and doubles. Then in Lahore I beat Pakistan No 1. Those were really great days and I remember them fondly," he said.
Misra though rues that now Indian players do not favour playing on grass, which used to be India's advantage in the home Davis Cup ties.
"We have played and won many ties on grass at home against some very good teams. Sadly, we don't have players now who prefer to play on grass. It's the hard courts now."
Misra has seen the current crop of Indian players from quite close as non-playing Davis Cup captain and feels that they need to work a bit harder.
"Somdev is struggling these days since he has not brought that element of attack in his game. He should have brought it into his game. You can't defend all the time, thinking the player will make mistakes. Yuki after wining the 2009 Australian Open and becoming world number one in junior, should have broken into top-100 by this time.
"For Yuki, I think it is the mindset. A player must not be satisfied. They need to work harder. They should have done better than their current status and nothing is impossible."
It may be mentioned that it was at the behest of this young Indian crop that Misra was forcefully removed as Davis Cup non-playing captain.
The pain of that unceremonious exit still rankles Misra.
"Had they told me quietly that that they want me to go and want Anand Amritraj in my place, I would have resigned, but they preferred saying things through media.
"But I am still working. We delivered a great Fed Cup in Hyderabad and I was a part of that organising committee. I am still the chairman of national selection panel. I will continue to work for Indian tennis," he signed off.