Confident of hosting big events

KALYAN ASHOK

AT the fag end of 2001, everyone seemed to have given up the World Doubles. Due to certain unforeseen circumstances, the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association was unable to host its second World Championship as per the contractual obligations with the ATP.

The KSLTA Secretary, C. S. Sunder Raju (left) with Vijay Amritraj.-K. GOPINATHAN

Firstly, the 2000 sponsor, ITC backed out with the Government's decision not to allow tobacco firms in sport sponsorships. KSLTA was faced with an unenviable task of finding a new sponsor. Later, KSLTA had to shift the dates in November, due to IOA's bid to host the Afro-Asian Games in New Delhi. But subsequently due to its cancellation following terrorist strikes in United States, the dates were reverted to second week of November. But then again, ATP and the players expressed reservations on security grounds. Later, the U.S. Operations in Afghanistan put every sports activity on the hold in the region.

In December 2001, KSLTA made one last bid, but to no avail. The championship was officially 'cancelled' by ATP, but the KSLTA's dynamic secretary, C. S. Sunder Raju did not give up. He was determined to bring the event to Bangalore, even if it was delayed and he, along with his good friend Vijay Amritraj succeeded in convincing the ATP and players on a January 2002 slot. The aborted event was revived and it proved to be an unqualified success, even without the Indian pair of Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes in the final.

C. S. Sunder Raju, was a much relieved man after the event for it was like a dream. It has now given KSLTA enough confidence to take on bigger events and the KSLTA secretary, a business tycoon turned sports administrator, wants to put Bangalore firmly on the world tennis map. Excerpts from an interview:

On the official status of the event: All along we had been pursuing the concept of World Doubles Championship with ATP. We finally put it together in January, even at that stage, neither we nor the ATP, thought we would run into difficulties on the classification of the event. We realised, there will be no points given, because the calendar year was over as of December 31 and it will not go into the players' bonus pool. From that perspective, the issue of points was redundant. But we still decided to go ahead, bringing in the top eight teams and call it as World Doubles Challenge Cup. Though, it may not be official, in format, spirit and principle, it was acknowledged as the World Doubles Championship.

On decision to postpone in view of the Afro-Asian Games: Given the choice of World Doubles and Afro-Asian Games, I am sure Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes would have played in the WDC. But we did not want a situation, where the country's tennis suffers in a multi discipline international event such as the Afro-Asian Games, hence we went along with the decision to postpone by a few weeks. But then lot of things happened, forcing the postponement of the Games as well as the World Doubles championship.

Response from Players: We had to conduct the event in January at a short notice. The response to our decision and suggestion was tremendous from players. Barring Todd Woodbridge and Jonas Bjorkman, the top pair, who had prior commitments, other guys simply said, 'you have it, we will be there'.

On public's reaction: When Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes made their exit from the event, we were really concerned about the gate collection and the tournament per se. But I was stunned to find a full capacity stadium for the final. it only shows the game is expanding and augurs well for tennis in Karnataka.

Lessons from hosting second World Doubles event: Obviously, there are lessons. The main one is how to generate wider interest before the championship gets into final stages. I should thank the media for bringing in the crowd, as we did little or no promo for the event unlike last time.

KSLTA's plans for the future: We are seriously looking at the possibility of hosting a world class women's event. A WTA championship is very much on the cards and though the slots have been filled, we have expressed readiness to host any such event which cannot be conducted elsewhere for some reason or the other.