I was one of the first to emerge from outstations


By Revata S. Silva

Frank Sebaratnam is one of the most prolific tennis players Sri Lanka had produced in her post independence era. His remarkable record too proves so both in the Sri Lanka Nationals and the most significant annual men’s international tournament of the country, the Davis Cup.

Great champions are often produced alongside many other great champions. The heydays of Sebaratnam era fell along with the times that were dominated by legendary Arjun Fernando who still holds the best Nationals record of the country on many counts.

Sebaratnam who was one of the first champion players to emerge from outstations to challenge a predominantly Colombo-based game like tennis, achieved a hero-like status in the late 1970s and the early 1980s.

He got married to one of his tennis pupils, Priyanthie Bandaranaike, who was Sri Lanka’s No. 1 in the women’s circuit for three years, and migrated to Bahrain where he won the main national title there.

Frank and Priyanthie are now living in Australia where Frank is a fulltime tennis coach running an academy.

‘Sunday Island – Sportstar’ met with this former champion for a rare interview recently when he was on a short visit to Sri Lanka with Priyanthie.

Following are the highlights of the story related by Frank Sebaratnam elaborating on the early stages of his tennis career which could be treated as part and parcel of the golden era of the history of tennis in Sri Lanka:

I was born in 1954. My dad introduced tennis to me when I was nine. He was the District champion and played in both Mannar and Jaffna. We were living in Mannar then. The game was not much popular in the outstations that time. Only some senior players, mostly government servants, played tennis in the outstations. Colombo was the main hub of tennis in the country.

My first coach was my dad. In fact, he had been my only coach. In Colombo, there were a handful of coaches. There were coaches who had been assigned for respective tournaments, like the Davis Cup, which I took part in. Other than that, my father was my only coach in my whole career.  

I won the Under-15 Junior Nationals tennis title representing St. Patrick’s College, Jaffna. I won the Junior Nationals in Under-18 too. That was in the year 1972. By that time, our family had moved from Mannar to Jaffna. I travelled from Jaffna to Colombo to win the Under-15 title in 1969 and Under-18 in 1972. At the Junior Nationals those days, there was no Under-12 then.

I moved to Colombo when I was 19. After that, the Sri Lanka Tennis Association (SLTA) became my second home.

Lasantha Fernando, Suresh Sivagnanam, Suresh Melvani and, a bit later, Arjun Fernando were the most dominant players at that time. Arjun was about three years junior to me.  

I won my first Nationals (Singles) title in 1979 (beating Lasantha Fernando in the final). Till then I was the Number 1 in the country but foreign players took part in the Nationals and they got away with the main titles. In fact, I was the No. 1 since about 1977.

In 1982, I beat an Indian player named Srinivasan to win my second Nationals. Then I won the third the following year (1983) beating (the late) Arjan Perera in the finals.   

When I was 25, in 1979, I left Sri Lanka. I was based in Bahrain up to 1990 and migrated to Australia in 1992. 

In Bahrain, I won five of their Open tournaments (the Bahrain National Tournament), most of the time in both Singles and Doubles.

When I was about 28 years old, I played my first Davis Cup for Sri Lanka. That time I won all three matches. That was in the early 1980s following a period where Sri Lanka had stopped playing in the Davis Cup for a while.

After that, Arjun (Fernando) and Walloo (Umesh Wallooppillai) started performing really well. Tennis went to another level. The level of interest to the game got heightened.

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