Previewing Sri Lanka Tennis Nationals – 5 : Great players of post World War I


Two great players of yesteryear. Prolific Hildon Sansoni, on left, with the legendary O. M. L. Pinto, who won a record 23 National titles. Both these players later became Ceylon Lawn Tennis Association Presidents. (Files)

by Revata S. Silva

Sri Lanka has been holding the annual National Tennis Championship since 1884; for 126 years. But, in fact, last year’s Nationals was its 95th version. That is because during the first 31 years of the tournament, from 1884 to 1914, it has been held when there was no National Association to govern the sport, hence omitting the first 31 events from the total number (126-31 = 95). A National tennis controlling body, named Ceylon Lawn Tennis Association (CLTA), was formed only in 1915. It should be mentioned that there had been no tournaments held for eight (8) years even after the CLTA was founded. Firstly from 1915-18, for four years, and then again from 1942-45, another four years, holding of the Nationals were interrupted due to the two World Wars. Therefore the actual number of Nationals held after the founding of the CLTA was 87. Therefore, the total number of Nationals, including the ones that were held prior to the formation of the CLTA, is 118.

By any count, this is an outstandingly long number for any annual sports championship. And fortunately, the main title winners of all those 118 years have been documented. Last Tuesday, July 26, we introduced two top men’s champions in the first 25 years (1884-1909) of the Ceylon Tennis Nationals, held at the N’Eliya Hill Club clay courts. They were E. de Fonblanque and D. E. Kelly. Today we will have a look at two other great players who played from 1920 through the period of the World War II.

O. M. Lisboa Pinto

Total Singles Titles: 7

Total Doubles Titles: 7

Total Mixed Doubles Titles: 9

Total Titles: 23

Total Runner-up Titles: 10

Triple Crowns: 2

Records indicate that O. M. L. Pinto played in the Ceylon Nationals from 1920-40. He first won the Singles title in 1920 beating G. Boustead in the finals. He repeated the act in 1921, ’23, ’24, ’27, ’29 and ’32, the year when famous Dr. C. H. Gunasekera became runner-up. Dr. C.H. was Pinto’s Doubles partner for thrice (from 1924-26) out of the seven times the latter won the title, between 1923 to ’34. Pinto had a remarkable Mixed Doubles partnership with Miss Doreen Sansoni, an invincible ladies’ player that time who had won an impeccable 19 Nationals titles along with championships in the then Malaya and All-India tournaments. The couple had emerged victorious from 1932 to 1940, but for a single year, 1937.

Hildon C. Sansoni

Total Singles Titles: 2

Total Doubles Titles: 3

Total Mixed Doubles Titles: 2

Total Titles: 7

Total Runner-up Titles: 3

Triple Crowns: 0

Sansoni has been known for always giving stiff competition against foreign players of his time. A fitness fanatic who has done a lot of road-running played in West England and Scotland. He won the Singles in 1938 and ’39 beating T. R. Ramanathan and F. C. de Saram respectively in the finals. He partnered G. O. Nicholas to win in three Doubles, from 1935-37. His Mixed Doubles titles came in 1937, when he partnered Mrs. C. Gilliat, and in 1949, with Mrs. C. R. Warren.

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