History of SL’s Tennis in Brief



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Here are interesting happenings in the history of Sri Lanka’s tennis in just over a century period that passed. The Sri Lanka Tennis Association is celebrating its centenary this year.


At present, tennis is considered to be one of the most ancient sports in Sri Lanka. It is governed by the Sri Lanka Tennis Association which is 100 years old. The


SLTA is currently run by a committee headed by Iqbal Bin Issaq.


During its over one-hundred years of evolution here, Sri Lanka’s tennis has been able to shed its elitist aura but arguably it is still restricted to the privileged, upper middle-class society. The regional supremacy the island’s tennis held during the 1950s and ’60 has certainly withered as her neighbouring countries like India, Japan and Thailand surpassed Sri Lanka to emerge globally recognised forces in the sport.


Twenty years ago, there were 44 clubs affiliated to the SLTA and of them exactly half were situated in outside Colombo metropolis. But now the number of active outstation clubs has reduced to about 10-15. In both men’s and women’s tennis, Sri Lanka had in recent times only a single professional player, Harshana Godamanna.


But the sport has been able to hold its stature at least at a decent level in the local sports milieu and initiation of recent projects like the outstation mini-tennis programme and wheelchair tennis are positive moves that give brightness to tennis in Sri Lanka.


TIMELINE OF
TENNIS IN SRI LANKA
(FORMERLY CEYLON)


1868 – Tennis is introduced to Ceylon by the British and the credit of doing it is formally given to three persons: P. F. Hadow, E. de Fonblanque and C. H. A. Ross.


1878 – P. F. Hadow, a coffee planter here, wins the 2nd Wimbledon championship title beating the tournament’s first champion Spencer W. Gore in the final. Hadow returns to Ceylon after the tournament and never participated in it again.


1885 – The Pettah Tennis Club, the first recorded tennis club is founded. Its first president is F. Dornhorst.


1886 – The first inter-district championship (only doubles) is held at Dickoya. Fonblanque partners E. Farquharson to win the title.


1887 – The Fort Tennis Club is formed. It remained to exist for over one hundred years and became one of the oldest tennis clubs in Asia.


1888 – Negombo Tennis Club is established.


1900-1930 – Sabaragamuwa Lawn Tennis Club at Ratnapura (in 1895), Chilaw Sports Club, Kurunegala Club, Phoenix Sports Club - Matara, Women’s International Club - Colombo, Carlton Tennis Club - Moratuwa, Dehiwala / Mount Lavinia Cosmopolitan Sports Club - Dehiwala, Govt. Servants Lawn Tennis Association - Battaramulla, and Kalutara Lawn Tennis Club – Kalutara, become the earliest tennis clubs to be formed in the country.


1913 – Brothers Fred and E. R. de Saram become first Ceylonese to win a National title at a time the British dominated the sport.


1915 – The Ceylon Lawn Tennis Association (CLTA) is established with HE Governor Sir Robert Chalmers as its first president. Uva, Dickoya, N’Eliya, Dimbulla, Kandy, Gampola, Ratnapura, Colombo, Galle, Kelani Valley and Kalutara represent the first District Committee of the Association. The headquarters is situated at a place called ‘Chalet’ in N’Eliya.


1919 – E. R. de Saram becomes the first Ceylonese to win a National singles title.


1934 – Top international players Fred Perry, Harry Hopman, D. A. Turnbull and J. Fujikuma were at the Nationals, held at N’Eliya those days, to play exhibition matches.


1935 – Wimbledon champion Miss Dorothy Round plays in Colombo. W. T. Tilden arrives here the next year for exhibition matches.


1937 – First Ceylonese team tours abroad. The team comprising Dr. C. H. Gunasekara, P. E. Perera, H. C. Sansoni and O. M. L. Pinto beats Madras by 3-2 in Madras. One of the famous French ‘Musketeers’, Henri Cochet plays a match in Colombo during a personal visit with the Orient Club groundsman, named Mr. Jansz, who has reportedly wore a sarong for the match.


1939-40 – Teams from Japan, Germany and USA play at the Colombo Lawn Tennis Club.


1944 – The CLTA conducts the first inter-club tournament.


1948 – The first Junior and Public School tournament is held in Colombo.


1949 – Miss Doreen Sansoni of Ceylon clinches the All-India Women’s Singles title.


1952 – The Colombo Plan Bureau holds the first Asian Tennis Championship in Colombo. Leading international player Frank Sedgeman takes part in it.


1953 – Ceylon plays her first Davis Cup against Netherlands in Hague.


1954 – The premises of the Colombo Garden Club are made available to the CLTA.


1956 – India’s Ramanathan Krishnan wins Ceylon’s men’s singles Nationals title. A long standing rivalry between Ceylon and India begins in Davis Cup. The two countries meet as many as in 12 times between 1956-83.


1958 – Legendary players Sedgeman, Jack Kramer, Pancho Seguera, Tony Trabet and Ken Rosewall play matches in N’Eliya.


1967 – Australia beat Ceylon 3-0 in the first ever ladies’ ‘Tennis Test’.


1971 – The CLTA becomes the SLTA under the presidency of T. Thiruchittampalam. A new constitution is introduced to give voting rights to all affiliate clubs.


1974 – T. Thiruchittampalam is selected to umpire at Wimbledon. Two grass courts are laid at the Queen’s Club, Colombo. Arjun Fernando makes his Davis Cup debut for Sri Lanka. He went on to become the leading player for the country until late ’80s. In 1980 he earned an ATP world rank of 220.


1980s – Leading players in both men’s and women’s tennis, Frank Sebaratnam, Umesh Wallooppillai, Rohan de Silva, Jayendra Wijeysekera, etc. in men’s and Lihini Weerasuriya, Maneesha Perera, Saranga Sangakkara and Vajira Premaratne in women’s, enter centre stage as Sri Lanka starts playing in a host of international tournaments.


1991 – As the SLTA, under president D. L. Seneviratne, becomes the venue for the SAARC Games tennis, the old iron-sheet roofed SLTA headquarters at Green Path enters a new-look two-story house.


1995 – Sri Lanka Davis Cup team reaches the Asia-Oceania Zone Group-II semi-finals for the first time.


2001 – Suresh Subramaniam becomes SLTA president. He went on to hold the post for over five years during which time the SLTA attracted a lot of sponsors for its projects, introduced mini-tennis and wheelchair tennis. Yet Sri Lanka’s Davis Cup standings deteriorated.


2008 – Sri Lanka’s leading men’s player Harshana Godamanna gets an ATP world rank of 811


PS:


Main source of this article was ‘75 Years of the SLTA’, compiled by D. Lam Seneviratne; June, 1990


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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