"Breakthroughs happen in Challengers," says Bopanna

Commenting on the sidelines of the Pune Challenger, ace Indian tennis star Rohan Bopanna said Indian players would certainly benefit from Challenger tournaments and urged authorities to host at least one Challenger each month.

Rohan Bopanna has played 24 tournaments overseas and believes there has to be balance between the ITF-Futures and ATP Challengers.   -  G. P. Sampath Kumar

Back to back ATP Challenger events in Pune ($ 50000 + H) and Bengaluru ($ 100000), at the end of the 2017 tennis season, is the best thing to have happened for India’s top and promising tennis players, Yuki Bhambri and Ramanathan Ramkumar and many more.

Someone like the gifted and clever Saket Myneni, rendered out of action for more than seven months because of a lower limb injury, got a chance to assess himself. While Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan competed hard for the prize on Saturday, more significantly the 80 and 48 ATP points; Myneni advanced as far till the semifinals.

Ranked World No. 15 in doubles, Rohan Bopanna, who spent five of his nascent years in Pune, was at the KPIT-MSLTA event for a day and in the course of an interaction with the media said, "Challengers are the way forward for Indian tennis. The ecosystems are very much in place across India, it’s only a matter of all coming together. If everybody has that one vision of supporting the sport and players, it can happen. Maharashtra is doing a great job; people like Sunder Iyer, Kishor Patil and Prashant Sutar have the passion for sport and are keen to improve.’’

READ: Bhambri tames Ramkumar in thrilling final to clinch Pune Challenger title

The 37-year-old doubles specialist, who runs an academy in Bengaluru, urged the authorities and sponsors to host more ATP events. "If each state has one Challenger every month, then we will have 12 Challengers in a year. If we have Futures and Challengers, then after five years, we will have more Indians in the main draw of tour events in India and that brings in more people to watch the game support the players.

"France has 30 weeks of Challengers; their players don’t have to travel. Today India has two Challengers in a year. When you have the  Futures and Challengers every month, then it brings up the younger players and the next generation, and everything starts building up.’’

Bopanna, who began the year partnering Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan and winning the Chennai Open, and has played 24 tournaments overseas  believes, there has to be balance between the ITF-Futures and ATP Challengers.

"Only playing the Futures, there is no future. But a youngster of 14 or 15 years age, cannot straightaway come into a Challenger. So you have to have those Futures events. You do well in a week of Futures event, you get an ATP point. But eventually it is at the Challengers that the breakthroughs are going to happen. Two Indians in a Challenger men’s singles here (Pune) is fantastic."

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Explaining his point on the need for more Challengers, Bopanna said, "Right now we have five players in the top 350. For them to play Futures doesn’t really make sense. They need those Challengers. There should be a balance. This Challenger (KPIT-MSLTA) has been running for four years. An Indian player knows that this Challenger is there for sure. There is nothing like playing at home. There is only one tournament for me in India. I am thankful that Pune has taken the opportunity to have the ATP event (Maharashtra Open in January 2018).’’

Bopanna is also pleased that Maharashtra has taken the initiative to host the 250 K series Maharashtra Open (from Chennai). "It’s fantastic. That’s the only way to go; the longer the period of a tournament you have, there are better chances for the local players get the opportunity to see the best players in action, the way they train and also realise themselves that to reach that level, they need to demonstrate a particular level of discipline and commitment. It’s always easier to watch someone at home than travel, because it’s pretty expensive.’’