A positive start

The victoriousPune Marathas team.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

A multitude of stars participated in the inaugural edition of the CTL and for the thrilled fans, the results did not matter. But whether the event will be a commercial success, and become a regular feature at the end of the usually hectic ATP and WTA season, remains to be seen. By Kamesh Srinivasan.

There were many stars and there was no dearth of entertainment. But, it was not the top stars who provided the energetic entertainment. It was Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus — a wild card entrant into the event — who powered Pune Marathas to the title, and was declared the “Most Valuable Player”. Saketh Myneni was adjudged the “Best Indian Player”.

For the fans, at least for most of the people, the results did not matter and very few stretched their vocal chords even as Delhi Dreams, the home team, played the final.

Whether the event will be a commercial success, and become a regular feature at the end of the usually hectic ATP and WTA season, remains to be seen.

The 10-day league featured the likes of Venus Williams, Martina Hingis, Jelena Jankovic, Sergi Bruguera, Pat Cash, Juan Carlos Ferrero, Greg Rusedski, Tommy Robredo, Mark Philippoussis, Mikhail Youzhny, Thomas Enqvist, Feliciano Lopez, Kevin Anderson, Agnieszka Radwanska, Garbine Muguruza, Alize Cornet apart from Indian stars, Leander Paes and Somdev Devvarman.

Vijay Amritraj, the visionary behind the endeavour, wants CLT to benefit Indian tennis, and hence a leading Indian men’s player was part of each of the six teams. A few talented young Indian girls and boys also made it to the squads and gained valuable exposure. Many matches went to the wire, giving the fans a lot to cheer for.

Saketh Myneni (right) and Marcos Baghdatis of Pune marathas were adjudged the best Indian player and the most valuable player of the meet.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

The withdrawal of David Ferrer and a foot injury to Rusedski, after the first match, weakened the Punjab side but it did well to beat a strong Delhi contingent by a big margin in Chandigarh. Leander Paes was sporting enough to compete in three rubbers for Punjab — the legends single, the mixed doubles and the men’s doubles. But the burden was perhaps a little too much for the 41-year-old Indian.

Amritraj, rightly, said that in the future, it was important to keep a couple of players holidaying in Goa, ready to jump into action if required.

“A success can be copied,” said Pat Cash, the 1987 Wimbledon champion, who conceded that the league had a lot of “great elements.” The legends will be willing to come to India and compete, but it will be a challenge for Amritraj to convince players from the top-25 in the world to extend their season even further.

Maharashtra already has a Premier Tennis League and multiple Grand Slam-champion Mahesh Bhupathi’s International Premier Tennis League (IPTL) has also rolled on in Asia, with top stars like Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Andy Murray, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

Unlike these two leagues, which have worked well to make the event vibrant — with coloured clothing and nice branding — the CTL had only the name of the city written on the shirt of the players. Overall, the league looked to have financial constraints and the franchise owners, with rare exceptions, were not willing to go the extra mile and involve the public.

Very few tickets were sold. The crowds thronged in as the organisers allowed free entry. The announcement for it, however, was not made public, keeping in mind the handful of paid spectators, who had actually bought daily tickets that were priced at Rs.600, Rs.1000 and Rs.2000.

Amritraj conceded that the first year was a challenge and the franchisees can expect returns by the third edition. On his part, he did a fantastic job in selling the television rights across Asia and the USA. Commendably, he was able to convince the stars to come to India and see the country through his eyes.

The players were happy too, overwhelmed by the warmth of the hospitality. Amritraj, correctly, was generous in his praise and said the players did a lot more than what they were expected to — both on and off the court.

With Chennai pulling out in the last minute and paving the way for Hyderabad, and lingering doubts over Mumbai till the end, the CTL did go through birth pangs, before delivering a beautiful package.

Former doubles stars Mark Woodforde and Luke Jensen were flown in from Australia and the USA for commentary duties, giving the event a professional edge. However, the fans at the venues were left cold at night, initially even without any basic information about the rules of the competition. The matches often dragged passed midnight, leaving the fans anxious to reach the warmth of their homes.

But still, overall, it was a lively affair and with a bit of tuning — possibly introducing Indian women players — and ensuring better returns for the franchise owners the Champions Tennis League can be a win-win affair for everyone.

FINAL RESULTS: PUNE MARATHAS BEAT DELHI DREAMS 27-23 - PAT CASH LOST TO JUAN CARLOS FERRERO 3-6; AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA AND MARCOS BAGHDATIS BEAT JELENA JANKOVIC AND SANAM SINGH 6-5 (3); AGNIESZKA RADWANSKA BEAT JELENA JANKOVIC 6-4; MARCOS BAGHDATIS AND SAKETH MYNENI BEAT KEVIN ANDERSON AND SANAM SINGH 6-5 (2); MARCOS BAGHDATIS BEAT KEVIN ANDERSON 6-3).