Tennis Star Amritraj Keeping Busy Off The Court

by Joe Jares

It’s a wonder that longtime Indian tennis star Vijay Amritraj can keep hi balance, living as he does with one sneaker in Asia and one sneaker in the San Fernando Valley. He and his wife, Shyamala, and their two small sons live in hot Madras, on India’s southeast coast, ‘and also have a home in Encino.

“When I get off the plane here, I feel like an American,” he said, “When I get off the plane there, I feel like an Indian right away”.

To take the feet metaphor to another set of extremities, Amritraj, 34, also has one hand in tennis and the ‘other in show biz. And he speaks English and Tamil, and he is a Roman Catholic from a predominantly Hindu nation, and he acts in and produces movies, and….. well, to completely sort out the ingredients in this curry, we’ll probably have to study his forthcoming autobiography, as yet untitled.

‘The latest protein is computer rankings list Amritraj 253rd in the world, but he has played only six tournaments in the rating period, compared to, say, 22 for younger countryman Ramesh Krishnan (ranked 39th),

Vijay means “victory” in Tamil, and seldom has an Indian lad been more aptly named. He and older brother Anand (“Happiness”) and younger brother Ashok (“Wisdom”) all were junior champions in India.

‘Vijay has been a Davis Cup stalwart for years. He was on India’s team when it reached the finals in 1974, then defaulted rather than play international pariah South Africa in the finals, and he was in the Ukraine in 1982 playing the Soviets in freezing temperatures while wearing two sweat suits.

And he was magnificent in the big upsets of Argentina and Australia last year. He was instrumental in India’s government allowing an India Israel government allowing an India Israel meeting in New Delhi (under incredibly heavy security) even though the two countries are political foes.

“It was great for foreign relations,” said Amritraj, “it was great for Israel and it was great for India”

India ended up losing to Sweden in the finals last December, 5-0.

The Amritraj brothers, with financial help from RJR Nabisco, have started the Britannia Amritraj Tennis Foundation to help develop promising Indian juniors into world class players, one of its prize pupils, Asif Ismail, recently won the Asian Juniors and became eligible for Junior Wimbledon.

India’s — and Amnitraj’s — 1988 Dayis Cup hopes were squashed recently when the government refused to allow the team to play Israel in Tel Aviv. The West Bank was in turmoil and India sides with the Arabs,

Amritraj Productions of Century City, however, is not in shambles. Run by Vijay and Ashok, the company has produced a docudrama, animated shorts and six films. Two of those, “Bloodstone” and “Jigsaw” (featuring Chad Everett and Yaphet Koto and shot in L.A.) will be out later this year.

Ashok said Friday that the company later this year is going to produce “Parental Guidance”, a movie written by Alan Bums, one of the creators of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”.

Meanwhile, Vijay hopes to land a couple of good acting parts he’s up for and squeeze them around playing for India in the Seoul Olympics.

His acting credits include playing an Indian agent in the James Bond thriller “Octopusy” and continuing roles in two TV series. “The Last Precinct”, which lasted eight episodes, and “What a Country!” a comedy about immigrants that lasted 26,

Recently Amritraj was waiting in a downtown L.A. coffee shop while his application for a visa was being processed. A man approached him and gushed about his acting — he had seen everything, even a ninja film made in the Far East, even the eight episode TV series.

Later he went to Amritraj’s table again and said.

“I wanted to ask, do you really play tennis? My friend says you play tennis”.

Oh, indeed he does. He was to leave this weekend for England to tune up his grass court game for Wimbledon.

Say, maybe he can still call his autobiography “Octobusy”.

WORCESTER, England: Graeme Hick reacted to becoming only the eighth cricketer to score 1,000 first class runs before the end of May by announcing “I still have a lot to learn”.

Article extracted from this publication >> June 3, 1988