Vijay Amritraj

“Playing Tennis made me whom I am” – Vijay Amritraj

Vijay Amritraj is India’s first international tennis player who not only made the country proud but continues to do with great élan. Heading his own foundation, The Vijay Amritraj Foundation, in hopes to serve the underprivileged back home, he also has a multitude of added responsibilities surrounding him. He continues to possess a passion for Tennis, and supports it continually. The first thing Amritraj said to me was “You have ten minutes” to which I answered, “Deal! I have ten questions.” So here you have readers, ten questions with the Tennis pro exclusively for Roshni Magazine.

You have and have had so many titles: tennis player, entertainment entrepreneur, television commentator and messenger of peace at the UN. How have you managed to juggle so many responsibilities?
Well I think different times of your career you have different challenges that you are presented with. And each challenge has always been an opportunity to be able to broaden your horizon and try new things. You are given an opportunity to attack these challenges in your own way. For me to be able to be a multi-tasker is important because all of them have been really eye-opening opportunities.

What is the Vijay Amritraj Foundation all about and why did you choose to start your own foundation?
Having served the United Nations for seven years, I saw firsthand what the needs were around the world and having grown up at a young age with illnesses of my own that were very severe, it was sport that got me out of my illness along with love and affection from my parents who took it upon themselves to make me into someone that perhaps be able to get to. I always figured at some point when I had a chance, to be able to give back, this would be an opportunity to do it. Along with a few friends three years ago, we started this foundation and the mandate is to able to try and help some of the most needy causes in India that don’t have the ability to raise money or awareness for their respected programs.

Which well-known celebrities and personalities has been a part of your foundation and how have they participated?
The advisory board is headed by former president George H. W. Bush and we have a whole bunch of people on the foundation board, business and political people. It’s very nice to have that support, because they add value and credibility to what we are doing and we continue to have others involved as well if they can. And it’s all within our time capacity. It is a very rewarding experience but the biggest reward is to go to India and see the charities that are able to do their work because of us.

With you have many achievements to your name, how have your learnt to remain humble?
(Laughs) Well, that I don’t know! I am who I am and whatever job we do, it’s something we do as a job. Some of us are extremely lucky that we can work and do things that we enjoy doing as well. And it’s honestly no different than that of a carpenter, an electrician or an accountant or a lawyer. It’s just that some peoples jobs are more in the public eye, and that honestly doesn’t change anything because you have to be in the public eye but you are just perhaps scrutinized a lot more, looked at a lot more, but honestly, it doesn’t or should not change the workings of a person who does it.

Who do you credit your success to?
Certainly my mom, when I was growing up. That was the hardest part because I was very unhealthy as a child growing up with severe asthma and spending a lot of time in hospitals. It became difficult for me to go to school and she was the one who took it upon herself along with my tennis coach to say that I am going to be someone, make me into a noble person and give me an opportunity to face the challenges that at that time seemed impossible.

What will be coming out of First Serve in the near future?
Well First Serve is just my company and works as a base for my companies. I am on the board of committee for various companies in India, I serve as a Brand Ambassador for many high-end products like Rolex, American Airlines, and I am do about twenty public speaking engagements a year, I work obviously with television covering the major sporting events in the world for a network called Star Sports out of Singapore. So it’s a combination of everything that I do under my own banner.

Post Slumdog Millionaire, the west has finally taken notice of India and its cinema offering. What is your opinion on the film and how it has been accepted?
Well the movie itself is a stand along picture. It just happens to have that India background to it. But the most important part is the story itself which has been told brilliantly by Daniel Boyle. And it is one of those movies that is put together so brilliantly with all the elements coming together in the end; it didn’t matter if you were Indian or American; you enjoyed it as a film. It hit all the spots. That certainly put India on the forefront of movie making with a number of films that are being done there; it’s just that there has not been any so-called “Indian” Bollywood that has perhaps got the adulation in the international market that it probably deserved simply because of the ethnicity of the picture. But so many great movies made in so many languages in India that are extremely good stories, extremely well-acted and directed but because of the ethnicity of the picture, it doesn’t have a Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Aniston or Tom Cruise, it doesn’t get international recognition. From a standpoint of picture making, we have been in the forefront, it’s just people are not aware of it.

Do you still play a lot of tennis?
I play for the same reason I started playing tennis, and that is for health (laughs). And for charity, exhibitions and things like that. The problem is of course, because I travel so very much it is difficult to have a consistent play schedule.

Who are some of your favorite tennis players from the current contemporaries?
Well today’s guys, the young ones, I don’t know them as well as my contemporaries that I played with. But I certainly know most of them and there is a good rivalry going on between [Roger] Federer and [Rafael] Nadal which is fun to watch. And I get a chance to keep a hand in the sport because I’m been president of the ATP Tour for five terms. It keeps me abreast as to what is going on in the sport.

What is something you haven’t achieved that you hope you will in the future?
Honestly, as the challenges come along, besides my business ventures which are all very exciting and challenging, it is great to see my sons do what they are doing and I am with them so if they need me for anything, to fulfill their dreams. At the same time, we want to be able to continue to make a difference in India with the poor and the destitute which is a fundamental challenge and we would like to continue make a difference in the lives and help them better their lives.

~ Roshni M.
(July 2009)

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