Bengaluru Open: India's biggest Challenger tournament set to start on Monday

India's biggest Challenger tournament yet, the $100,000 Bengaluru Open is set to start on Monday and will see Indian stars Yuki Bhambri and Sriram Balaji face-off in the first round.

Indian players (from-left) Vijay Sundar Prashanth, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, Prajnesh Gunneshwaran and Sriram Balaji during a practice session on the eve of Bengaluru Open Challenger.   -  V Sreenivasa Murthy

Back in early 2014 when Chennai hosted a $50,000 Challenger, it was the first in India for almost six years. There were the ITF Futures, the lowest rung of tournaments, and there was the marquee ATP World Tour 250 level event, but nothing in the middle to bridge the gap.

However, in the time since then, 11 Challengers have been held. This number is still considered low but these are no doubt steps in the right direction. One more will be taken on Monday when the Bengaluru Open $100,000 Challenger, the biggest until now, begins at the KSLTA courts.

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The event gathers further significance for Yuki Bhambri, who is ranked just outside the Top-100 and has a shot at making the 2018 Australian Open main draw. With Bengaluru being the biggest tournament before the Open cut-off date of December 18, he would no doubt want to cash in.

Recent history of the Challenger competitions in India will offer him hope. In the 12 tournaments from Chennai 2014, an Indian has won the singles title on six occasions – Bhambri thrice, Somdev Devvarman twice and Saketh Myneni once. An Indian has been a losing finalist four times. Even in doubles a home pair has lifted seven of the 12 trophies.

“The trend is to usually do better at home,” Devvarman told Sportstar in 2015. “Americans do well at home. Why shouldn’t it be for us? We are now starting to compete and it suits us better here. When it’s in America, an unranked college guy might be tough to play against. But here, for them, to play an unseeded Indian is tough.”

For a youngster like Suraj Prabodh, who has been given a wild card in Bengaluru, it offers a crack at the top in conditions which are not alien.

“It boosts the players mentally,” Suraj said. “When you are playing at home, the environment is entirely different. For Ramkumar [Ramanathan], the Chennai Open gave him the break he needed. I feel if more tournaments are held, we all can improve.”

As to how this will play out, will be clear over the next week but the very presence of big cluster of Indian players is encouraging. After the final qualifying rounds on Sunday, N. Vijay Sundar Prashanth and Sidharth Rawat took the home players' total in the 32-man main draw to 11, among the highest in recent times.

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“It's nice to have each other around,” said Prajnesh Gunneswaran, who reached the final in Pune in 2016 and then went on to play Davis Cup for India. “Also, the better one guy does, others also want to do well. It either pushes you or gives you the belief and both are good.”

The results: Qualifying (Final round): Qualifying (Second round): Borna Gojo bt Antoine Escoffier 6-1, 3-6, 6-0; Sidharth Rawat bt Timur Khabibulin 6-2, 7-6 (5); Matej Sabanov bt Naoki Nakagawa 7-5, 6-4; Vijay Sundar Prashanth bt Shalva Dzhanashia 6-3, 6-2.