Previewing SL Tennis Nationals 2010
Heroes of yesteryears


by Revata S. Silva

The Sri Lanka tennis Nationals will be held from Aug. 26 to Sep. 3 at the SL Tennis Association (SLTA) hard courts in Colombo.

Reviving a great history in this sport, its Nationals will bring back memories of a very rich past where players of numerous backgrounds dominated tennis in Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, which has a varied, over a century old history in this island.


First Ever Nationals –

The first ever tennis National has been held in Sri Lanka, which was named Ceylon until 1972, in 1884. That has only been in Men’s Singles. The first ever Ceylonese National champion has been C. H. A. Ross who has beaten J. Parsons in the first Men’s Singles finals.

But the first real champion to emerge in Ceylonese tennis in its formative years has been E. de Fonblanque. Records say Fonblanque has often taken part in various tennis tournaments in England that time and has played cricket for Middlesex too. He still holds the record (10) for the highest number of Men’s Singles titles in Sri Lanka/Ceylon Nationals.


Women’s Champions –

The first ever Women’s (those days named Ladies’) Singles championship for the National title has been held in the year 1888, four years after the first Men’s Singles championship. The first Women’s National title holder is Miss I. Watson who has beaten Miss D’Esterre in the finals.

Doreen Sansoni (7 Singles titles), G. D. H. Alston (7) and Sheila Roberts (5) has been popular names in the early part of the 20th century in Ceylonese women’s tennis. Playing at her peak during 1931-47, Sansoni has won a record number of 19 overall National titles, including Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles, and, to add to those, she, a lean and tall right-handed player, has emerged victorious in both All-Indian and Malayan National championships as well.


Men’s Doubles Begins –

The Men’s Doubles enters the fray only in the year 1890 and, according to available records, R. S. Templer and F. Hadden are the first All-Ceylon Men’s Doubles champions.

Women’s Doubles begins in 1922 when Mrs. C. Gilliat and Mrs. C. Goolden have beaten Mrs. G. D. H. Alston and Mrs. R. G. Coombe to own the first ever title on offer.

The Mixed Doubles has begun in the year 1911. D. E. Kelly and Miss Goolden have beaten F. F. Roe and Miss Souter in the first ever National Mixed Doubles final.


Predominant Male Players –

Other than the legendary Fonblanque, the predominant players in the Men’s circuit those years have been O. M. L. Pinto, who won 7 Singles titles and 23 overall titles, D. E. Kelly (10 Singles and 10 overall), F. J. ‘Koo’ de Saram, a household name during 1940-60 (3, 10), B. L. Pinto (1, 14) and Hildon C. Sansoni (2, 7), the right-hander who has played with great prowess during the year 1935-49.

These were the renowned names of Ceylonese tennis during its post-independent era tennis. As a sport, introduced by the Colonial British, tennis was seen slowly but surely ‘localised’ after Ceylon gained independence in 1948. The Up Country–centred lawn tennis –as the game was named those days—established itself in the Colombo capital in the mid 19th century. With that, new heroes were born and tennis in Sri Lanka evolved through rough times to survive for over one hundred years. The SLTA will hold the 90th Nationals later this month.

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