The buzz created at the Aircel Chennai Open’s Stadium Court as Ramkumar Ramanathan came back from a set down to qualify for the quarter-finals, convinced Tom Annear of the value of the tournament and that Chennai was indeed the ‘capital of tennis’ in the country.
It has been four years since Annear has served as the Chennai Open’s Tournament Director. Intrigued and warmed by what he termed as the city’s culture, the American has overseen a number of changes in India’s only ATP event, and is upbeat about where it is currently. In a chat with Sportstar, he said that a verdict on the future of Chennai Open will be known by all in the coming days. He also spoke about financial hiccups, and why top players keep coming back to this city.
Question: Did the floods in Chennai affect the preparations of the tournament in any way?
Answer: There was no damage to the stadium, so the tournament did not skip a beat. The weather has been beautiful so far, and the players have gone about their business. In terms of giving back to the city, we applied for a petition to the ATP, and donated $15,000 to the minister’s relief fund.
Why do some of the players keep coming back to play here?
Players keep coming back because the culture here is different. It is different from Doha and Brisbane, (where there are tournaments going on right now). For some players it’s a no-brainer because of the city and the people. Benoit Paire and Stan Wawrinka are regulars. Also, the courts in Chennai are very similar to those at the Australian Open. The hot and humid conditions are also conducive to the players’ preparations. The balls they use are also the same. The combination of all these factors is one of the main reasons why players like to keep coming here.
How do you deal with big players withdrawing from a tournament?
There are opportunities for others in the event of such mishaps (Kevin Anderson pulling out of the Chennai Open with a knee niggle).
How has the tournament developed since you took charge?
From the first time I was here in 2012 the facilities have been improving every year, ranging from hotels to gyms. The players are recognising these improved facilities and are feeling more comfortable. We have made the fan experience more interactive.
What about the financial aspects of organising such a tournament?
We do make money, but it is making the projection which is challenging. I don’t see the projection of the tournament improving this time; the economics are good but not great. Ticket sales are a very small part of the tournament revenue, but even a 20 percent increase in sales comes as a big boost. This is something we are keen on improving. The attendance is pretty good, but getting a good crowd on Mondays and Tuesdays regularly is something we are targeting at.
Do you think this is the right period of the year to be hosting the Chennai Open?
Hosting the tournament in January is very feasible because of the climatic conditions. We own this slot. If we hosted the tournament in June or July, we may have to play matches at 4 a.m.!
What are your thoughts on the city of Chennai?
I’ve been told Chennai is the tennis capital of India, and I believe it after seeing the attendance at Ramkumar Ramanathan’s second round match. I think the tournament is a very symbolic part of Chennai, and it has been here for 20 years. The government is very much behind it, sponsors are very supportive. I think it’s very much a part of the sporting fabric.
Can we expect the Chennai Open to continue in future?
You will find out soon. It is going to be a surprise announcement, either on Sunday or Monday.
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