Known for his deft movement on the court and good looks, Lall died at 68.
The year 1969 was Rod Laver’s finest. The best-ever male tennis player according to a large number of the game’s followers, Laver had already won all the four Grand Slam titles in 1962, the second man to do so after Don Budge. Soon after, he turned professional and, since professionals played on a different circuit, stayed away from the mainstream for the next few years.
The tennis world’s open era began in 1968, when professionals were welcomed into the fold and Laver began where he had left off. In 1969, he again completed the Grand Slam of all the four majors. This time his dominance of the game was supreme. There were very few occasions when he was challenged on the courts, and one of them was when he ran into India’s Premjit Lall in the second round at Wimbledon.
Lall had first made a name for himself by reaching the Wimbledon junior final in 1958, an achievement in those days when the tennis infrastructure was deficient. In the next few years he came to be known for his delectable touch-play and forged a strong Davis Cup combination in the 1960s with Ramanathan Krishnan, Jaideep Mukerjea and S P Misra.
Lall put together an impressive Davis Cup record, winning 34 singles matches and losing 20, and alongside won 24 doubles matches while losing 12. His best Grand Slam singles performance was reaching the round of 16 at the 1962 Australian Championships. In doubles, his best Grand Slam performance was reaching the quarterfinals at the 1962 Australian Championships and the 1973 Wimbledon, both times with Jaideep Mukerjea.
Despite his wins, Lall’s career came to be defined by that loss to Laver. In a year when Laver was the lord of all he surveyed, Lall won the first two sets. But Laver was nothing less of a fighter too. With a left arm that looked like a guerilla manoeuvring his five-foot-eight-and-a-half-inch frame, he stormed back to take the next three sets 6-3, 6-0, 6-0.
Lall, also known for his good looks, was often mobbed at Wimbledon by female fans. An old-timer recalls that Lall was the only player, with the exception of Bjorn Borg in the later years, to be given police escorts at Wimbledon.
That same Premjit Lall, known for his deft movement on the court, was confined to a wheelchair since an accident in 1992. On December 31, 2008, he met his friends at lunch and went to sleep in the afternoon. In the evening, he had bleeding in the mouth and died at his Kolkata residence, aged 68.