Chennai Open Challenger Diary: Of old champions, star kids and a chance to improve Indian tennis

From watching the likes of Leo Borg and Sumit Nagal sweat it out ahead of the main draw to catching up with the who’s who of Indian tennis, Sportstar shadowed the preparations in the run-up to the weeklong Chennai Open Challenger.

Published : Feb 11, 2023 22:31 IST , CHENNAI

From L-R: Sumit Nagal, Somdev Devvarman, Christian Brydniak and Leo Borg
From L-R: Sumit Nagal, Somdev Devvarman, Christian Brydniak and Leo Borg | Photo Credit: Abhishek Saini

From L-R: Sumit Nagal, Somdev Devvarman, Christian Brydniak and Leo Borg | Photo Credit: Abhishek Saini

The SDAT Stadium in Chennai was bustling with activity on Saturday. It was the beginning of The ATP Challenger Tour’s one-week stay in the city and preparations were in full swing.

The excitement compounded after Borg found his name in the main draw wildcards. No, not the ever-so-poised, 11-time Grand-Slam-winning, former World No.1, but his 19-year-old son Leo. The possibility of Bjorn’s attendance at the venue, even as a spectator, did bring a smile to Sportstar.

An added joy to the day was a reprieve from the usual, smelting Chennai sun.

For the players, the back-and-forth thudding and slicing of a tennis ball was still some time away. They strolled along the track beside the outer courts, which were now adorned with the blue ATP logos. Some were packing their gear in the stand, gearing up for the day ahead.

Right opposite the courts, at the event’s front desk, was where the battle was raging. The reception was flooded with queries about the practice schedule, and the transport desk rushed to locate the next shuttle from the hotel. Mixed with this clamour were requests for practice balls, accreditation and water bottles.

One group of volunteers was followed by another, each one scurrying to get the last-minute detail in place. The scorecards were getting deposited at their respective courts and tents were being erected in the stands. This was time for the final touch.

Sportstar managed to evade the commotion in one piece and made it to the centre court. Sumit Nagal, fresh off the Davis Cup triumph against Denmark’s Auguste Holmgren, grunted on his forehands to keep the ante high. This was his last view of the court before the qualifying rounds on Sunday. A loud “good shot” from his coach Somdev Devvarman interlaced Nagal’s shots.

On the other end, Manish Sureshkumar stood stiff, matching Nagal blow for blow. He was another Indian flag bearer in the qualifying draw. Two four-game sets and a mini-tie break later, however, Nagal established the bragging rights.

As the duo trudged out of the playing area, Devvarman obliged for a quick word with Sportstar about the upcoming month in Indian tennis.

“I think they’re very important tournaments (Challengers in Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune). It’s good for the players. Like a Manish, a Sumit, Praj (Prajnesh Gunneswaran), Ram (Ramkumar Ramanathan), or Mukund (Sasikumar), all these are playing a good level of tennis. Are they playing at the highest level? No! They need these events since they have a chance of going deep.”

On exiting the feature arena, Sportstar was greeted with to-and-fro pounding of green. The voices of players and their coaches echoed from across six different courts.

A shuttle came to a halt at the front gate, bringing another score of players to the venue. The festival was only starting. Sportstar would return.

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