Prakash and Stephen: the Amritraj Cousins C/P
Prakash and Stephen: the Amritraj Cousins continue family role in tennis
By Sandra Harwitt
The role of continuing the presence of the Amritraj family in tennis circles has recently fallen to 18-year-old cousins Prakash and Stephen, the American offspring of two of the three tennis-playing Amritraj brothers of India who played the tour in the 1970s and '80s.
Prakash, the older by six months, is the son of Vijay, the most notable of the former generation of Amritraj siblings. Vijay won 16 career titles during his years on tour and enjoyed a career high ranking of 16 in July 1980. After leaving a full-time career in tennis, Vijay also pursued a passion for acting when he had a starring role in the James Bond flick, "Octopussy."
Stephen is the son of Anand, the eldest of the three Amritraj brothers, who earned more acclaim in the doubles arena by winning 13 titles and as a finalist in 19 other tandem tournaments. Anand's career high singles ranking was No. 74 in November 1974 and 80 in doubles in June 1984.
While Prakash and Stephen both hope to follow in their dads' footsteps and become professional tennis players, they've had distinctly different upbringings. Their fathers' learned the game of tennis while growing up in a highly respected family in Madras, India. Having moved to the United States during their playing days, Anand, Vijay and younger brother, Ashok, all live in Los Angeles, where Prakash and Stephen call home and are proud to be American citizens.
"You get used to what you grow up with and we were born and raised in LA and I know I'll be a "Cali boy" the rest of my life," says Prakash, who ended his junior tennis career this summer with a victory at the prestigious 18's hardcourt tournament in Kalamazoo. "I'm not going to want to leave."
BORN TO THE TENNIS LIFE ...
Born when their fathers were still touring the world as professional players, both Prakash and Stephen have been part of the tennis scene all their lives.
"I guess we always kind of knew [they were famous] since we traveled from tournament to tournament since we were babies," Prakash said. "We saw all the people wanting autographs, so you realize it all. I think it sets in a little bit more once you get a little bit older. Then you realize how big they are."
Both Prakash and Stephen, who just started his freshman year at Duke University, insist that they came by their interest to play the game naturally and were never forced to pursue tennis.
Prakash said, "My dad never pushed me into the game and I think that's the biggest reason why I have such a great passion for it. I love being on the court eight hours a day, training. I enjoy that so much. I think my going for tennis boils down to one summer, when I was nine-and-a-half and we all were in Wimbledon together -- Stephen, and my younger brother, Vikran, who was five-and-a-half at the time. My dad took me into the Number 1 locker room and I found myself sitting on a bench in between [Pete] Sampras and [Boris] Becker and it struck me that this is what I want to do."
Stephen said, "You're just around the game so often that you kind of want to pick it up. It's pretty nice because I had someone [my dad] to hit with me all the time. Someone who knows the game, someone that can teach you, pick the right racket for you, someone who has knowledge of the game, that's a great advantage. I think it would have been tough if I weren't in a family like this to randomly go and pick up a sport. But it was great I was involved in this because I turned out to really love the game."
Although both are amateurs, they experienced the beginning of their future life on tour this summer when as a wildcard team in the draw, they reached the semifinals of the doubles at LA.
"It was an amazing week," said Stephen, of their ATP tour debut in LA. "We got in, halfway, because of luck. We won a tiebreaker shoot-out that we were drawn out of a hat to play in and that got the ball rolling for us. It's been six months since we played together and it felt like it was just yesterday when we played. It was our first ATP event and if they all go like that, we'll be in great shape."
While Prakash is taking the fall semester of his sophomore year at USC off to travel on the tennis tour and see how he does, Stephen has recently started at Duke University.
"I wanted the best education I could get and the best facility and the tennis I can get and I thought Stanford and Duke had the best combination of both," Stephen said. "I thought that Stanford might have had the better team, but Duke would provide me the chance to get better personally, for myself, so that's why I chose it. I hope it can turn me into the person and player I want to be."
... AND THE HOLLYWOOD LIFE
The one thing we learned from Prakash is that he also possesses the family passion for showbiz. Not only has dad Vijay tried his hand at acting but uncle, Ashok, is a well known film producer in Hollywood.
When Prakash says, "I actually have a real interest in acting," cousin Stephen pipes in, saying, "Prakash would be a really good actor, and then Aunt Helen [Stephen's mom] adds that "Prakash does the greatest imitations of everybody."
"Ever since I was small, I always did scenes for the family at dinners. I always imitate all these people and when I was in school, I was in all these plays. So I'd love to, maybe, one day pursue it."
As the teens plan to head back to their hotel for a brief rest before playing a match at the Indianapolis tournament in August, Prakash finishes off by summing up how they both really feel about tennis.
"I really don't see anything in the world that could be better," he said. "You're traveling from city to city, around the world, visiting great places, staying in great hotels, meeting really nice people and all you have to do is play a little tennis now and then. I really don't think you can ask for anything more."
As the two walk away, Helen Amritraj points out how close the two, who grew up within minutes of each other, have always been.
"Actually, they're so close and so close in age, they're more like twins than brothers," she said.