Indian tennis icon, Davis Cup great Akhtar Ali dies

Akhtar Ali trained Indian tennis greats like Leander Paes, Ramesh Krishnan, Vijay and Anand Amritraj during his coaching days.

By Utathya Nag

Former Indian tennis player and Davis Cup captain Akhtar Ali, who later rose to become a legendary coach, has died. He was 81.

Akhtar Ali was suffering from age-related issues, including Parkinson's disease and dementia, and was diagnosed with prostate cancer after he was admitted to a Kolkata hospital two weeks back. He breathed his last around 2:30 AM on Sunday.

The doctors had advised against any cancer treatment owing to his other underlying health issues.

An Arjuna awardee in 2000 for his contribution to the sport, Akhtar Ali began making splashes in Indian tennis after winning the junior national title in 1955.

Akhtar Ali then reached the semi-finals of the junior Wimbledon and proceeded to represent India at the Davis Cup from 1958 to 1964, where he held an enviable win-loss record of 9-2. He also played at the Wimbledon and French Open, taking part in six Grand Slam events between 1956 and 1962.

Proficient in both singles and doubles, he captained and coached the Indian Davis Cup team. However, it was after retiring and turning to coaching that Akhtar Ali made his lasting mark on Indian tennis.

During his coaching stint, Akhtar Ali helped mould the careers of Olympic bronze-medallist Leander Paes, alongside other Indian tennis greats like Vijay Amritraj, Ramesh Krishnan and Anand Amritraj to name a few.

His son Zeeshan Ali, too, represented India at the 1988 Seoul Olympics and currently coaches the Indian Davis Cup team. Akhtar also played an advisory role to Sania Mirza during her formative years.

Akhtar Ali's demise will be a big loss for Indian tennis.

“Akhtar Ali was terrific as a coach both when I was a junior as well as coach of our India Davis Cup team. Always pushed hard and kept the team relaxed. He did great service to Indian tennis,” Vijay Amritraj said on Twitter.

Olympic silver medallist Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Davis Cupper Somdev Devvarman were among those who too offered their condolences.

Akhtar Ali is survived by his son Zeeshan and two daughters Nilofer Ali and Zareen Desai. The tennis icon's last rites will be performed at 4 PM on Sunday.

Lead photo: Akhtar Ali/Facebook