It was a sunny day in 1989 when Dr. Vece Paes, bronze medal winner of the Indian Hockey Team at the 1972 Olympics, accompanied his 16-year-old son to Chandigarh where his son participated in the ITF Juniors Tournament at the CLTA (Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association) Tennis Stadium Chandigarh. The lost boy named Leander Paes would go on to win his first ITF title on CLTA’s grass courts and go on to win the junior Wimbledon Boys’ title. Months after the feat, the youngster Paes would play in the Davis Cup match between India and Japan at the same stadium under the captaincy of Naresh Kumar in 1990. Teaming up with Zeeshan Ali in the doubles match of the match on 31 March 1990, Paes would win the doubles draw with Ali against Japanese pair of Shuzo Matsuaka and Shigeru Ota to give India a 3-0 lead in the match, with India eventually winning the tie 4-1.
“One of the first things I admired about CLTA Tennis Stadium was the fact that it was purely a dedicated tennis arena, which was not the case in some tennis centers around the country at the time. Chandigarh is a beautiful city and the tennis stadium here gives a calming experience amidst the gardens. When Leander won his first ITF Juniors title here he was very excited like any young kid his age and it remains his best memory of his junior career,” said Dr. Vaes Paes.
While young Paes was 16 and nine months old when he made his Davis Cup debut for India, the Kolkata player impressed then Indian Davis Cup captain Naresh Kumar. With the first-ever Davis Cup match at CLTA Stadium, it was a special moment for the city’s elite and tennis enthusiasts. With India winning the tie, it meant that Leander started his Davis Cup career with a win for India. Over the next 32 years, Leander set a record for most Davis Cup doubles wins, a record many envied. “Before the Davis Cup match against Japan, I met Indian captain Naresh Kumar at Kolkata Racecourse and Kumar was very excited about Leander. He told me he wants Leander on the team and I told him it’s his choice to captain the team. Initially, Leander went to Chandigarh as a batting partner to Rohit Rajpal, but on the day of the draw, Kumar decided to give Leander his Davis Cup debut. Leander and Zeeshan Ali won the doubles competition and Leander would tell me later that it was nothing short of a festival in Chandigarh at the time. Later, Leander and I were associated with CLTA for more than 14 years by giving coaching clinics and serving on the advisory committee,” the elder Paes recalls.
While the Chandigarh Lawn Tennis Association was formed on 17 September 1975, it was not until 1987 that the association got its own stadium. From 1975 to 1987, CLTA held its tournaments at Chandigarh Club and Panjab University courts where exhibition tournaments would be held. While players like Ramanathan Krishnan, Akhtar Ali and Nandan Bal took part in these tournaments apart from former IPs and Pondicherry Lt Governor Kiran Bedi, one such exhibition match saw the then Indian legend, 38 year old Ramanathan Krishnan face his 14 year old. son Ramesh Krishnan. The youngster would beat his father in the match. “I have been visiting Chandigarh since the early 1970s. Chandigarh was our stop after the coaching camp in Patiala. I won my first men’s tournament here in 1976 and it was a turning point in my career. I remember the competition that took place for temporary seats (Panjab University). I also had the opportunity to chaperone my daughter who took part in the ITF Junior Tournament here. I also cherished my encounters with the late Shri Milkha Singh in Chandigarh,” said Ramesh Krishnan, one of India’s most successful players in Davis Cup history.
It was in the late 1970s that the Chandigarh government made plans to create a tennis stadium in the City Beautiful. With MG Devasahayam, who was the deputy commissioner of Chandigarh at that time and was also the founder and president of CLTA, the UT administration first designated the north-western part of the rose garden as the designated place for the tennis stadium. While Ramanathan Krishnan put the plaque in front of the stadium, lack of space meant that the site for the stadium was moved to its current site in the Leisure Valley for DAV College. The stadium was completed in 1979. On January 1, 1987, CLTA acquired the stadium for a 10-year lease from the UT administration. “MG Devasahayam was very passionate about tennis and the UT administration then came up with a plan to allocate the budget of two community centers for the new tennis stadium. Chief Architect MN Sharma and his team along with Chief Engineer Kulbir Singh came up with the design of the stadium which resembles the Rome Colloseum. The stadium is built in such a way that every spectator can watch the match in the stadium with a clear view of the action. We also planted many trees, including Jamun and Mulberry trees, in the stadium. In 1989, the then Punjab Governor SS Ray and Haryana Governor HA Brari participated in the hot weather tournament at the stadium,” recalled Rajan Kashyap, founding member and former president of CLTA.
While the stadium hosted the Davis Cup match in 1990, it got the chance to host one of the biggest Davis Cup matches in the form of the Davis Cup World Group semi-final between India and Australia played from 24 September to September 26, 1993. With the Australian team with Wally Masur, Jason Stoltenburg, Mark Woodforde and Tood Woodbridge and the Indian team with Ramesh Krishnan, Leander Paes, Gaurav Natekar and Zeeshan Ali. It was a showcase event for Indian tennis and the occasion saw the presence of David Ewans, the then Australian High Commissioner to India apart from the then Punjab Governor Surendra Nath, Punjab CM Beant Singh and Haryana CM Bhajan Lal. India lost the tie 5-0 to the Aussies. “CLTA was given six weeks to prepare when AITA decided to host the all-important Davis Cup World group semi-final in Chandigarh. I was the CLTA President at the time and my team, including CLTA Secretary S Marriya, would leave no stone unturned for the tie. Initially the Australians were under the impression that Chandigarh is a remote place in Chandigarh and came prepared with all their food. But when they reached Chandigarh, they were surprised to see the facilities here and the gardens near the stadium.”
The stadium hosted its third Davis Cup tie from 14 September to 16 September 2012 in the form of the India v New Zealand tie. With India winning the tie 5-0, there was a festive atmosphere in the stadium. Kashyap vividly recalls an incident during the draw. “On one of the days, a newborn child was left behind by a stadium staff in the Leisure Valley area, close to the CLTA stadium. CLTA staff cared for the baby before she was taken to an orphanage in the city. We don’t know where that child is now, but CLTA doors are always open for the child,” Kashyap recalled.
The stadium also played host to future US Open champion Emma Raducanu. In 2018, a young Raducanu had come to participate in the ITF Grade-3 Tournament at CLTA Stadium and the youngster won the title here. “Emma along with her mother Renne had come to compete here at CLTA and when she won the title here she thanked all the coaches and support staff here. It remains a special moment for CLTA,” said CLTA head coach Romen Singh.
For the past 30 years, CLTA has also provided training to rural children under the CHART program that began in 1992. Sunil Kumar from Kapurthala, who became the Indian champion in 1999, is one of the products. “When we recruited for the CHART program, one boy initially walked out because of the practice schedule. But the motive was to spot talent from rural areas and give them free scholarships,” says Kashyap.
Although the stadium has not hosted a Davis Cup tie with the last one between India and South Korea in 2016 at Chandigarh Club, the stadium is waiting for its next major tournament.