'King Lasantha' reigns no more
Lasantha Fernando, was a well known and popular figure in tennis circles because he was a top tennis star and Davis Cup player in a bygone era. He passed away in the early hours of Friday (May 7) after an illness fought bravely right to the end. He was 70 years.

Burly Lasantha was a genial host and used to keep a gathering going with his banter over bachus. Many were the days and nights I used to spend with Lasantha or ‘King Lasa’ as he was affectionately known at his earlier residence down Gregory’s Road. Those were the good old days spent in enjoyable company.

Having got to know Lasa when he was courting Manel since their University days, he was an outspoken personality calling a ‘spade a spade’ right to the face.

He ended up as General Manager at Ceylon Oxygen and later left to the USA where he lived for many years, before returning to Sri Lanka a few years back. However, he was very disappointed with the shabby treatment he received from the Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA), where he served with distinction on court.

At St. Benedict’s in Kotahena, where Lasa received his education, he distinguished himself as a cricketer, always smartly attired in cricketing flannels. He later entered the University of Colombo, where he excelled at tennis and cricket.

Lasa won the National Singles Title in 1975, beating Bhupathy of India and was runner-up in 1978 and 1979. He won the Doubles in 1978 with India’s Enrico Piperno, in 1979 with Sriyan Senahdira and in 1984 with Arjun Fernando, besides being the runner-up in this event with Dr. Ranjan Wattegedara, in 1973 and with Iqbal Bin Issac in 1983. He won the Mixed Doubles title on four occasions, in 1963 with Miss. L. Mahendran, in 1978 with Lyn D’Souza, in 1979 with India’s Gita Kumar and in 1984 with Italy’s Laura Pesenti. He was runner-up on six occasions, partnered by Miss Mahendran in 1964, Mala Fernando in 1972, Oosha Chanmugam in 1973, Shantha de Soysa in 1983 and with his only daughter, Lihini Weerasuriya, in 1985 and 1987.

Lasa played for Sri Lanka in the Davis Cup against India in 1964 and 1967, versus the Philippines in 1975 and also against Pakistan in 1976. He won a bronze medal for the country at the 1966 GANEFO Games in Indonesia.

Lasa was very proud that his daughter Lhini, whom he coached, was the youngest player to win the Women’s Singles title in 1985 at the age of 13. She also won this title for three more consecutive years (1986 to 1988) and also the Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles titles on several occasions.

She also represented the country at the Federation Cup and SAF Games and turned professional too, having migrated to the USA where she is living. Lihini is a medical doctor by profession, following in the footsteps of her mother, Manel.

I condole with Manel, Lihini and two sons Sanjeeva and Asanka on the passing away of beloved Lasa.

Goodbye my friend, till we meet again.

Lasa’s cremation will be held on Wednesday at the General Cemetery, Kanatte, at 4.30 p.m. His remains will lie at Barney Raymonds’ funeral Parlour from tomorrow.

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