Less than ideal star appeal, but Pune Open confident of holding its own

The last time India’s only ATP 250 event didn’t boast of a player from the world’s top-10 was way back in 2003 at the erstwhile Chennai Open.

Pune has had to push its dates to a window that is sandwiched between the Aussie Open and the hard court swings in Europe and the Americas, and thus settle for a less spectacular field.   -  R RAGU

The last time India’s only ATP 250 event didn’t boast of a player from the world’s top-10 was way back in 2003 at the erstwhile Chennai Open when the then world no. 15 Guillermo Canas was the top seed. When the Tata Open Maharashtra gets underway on Monday, it will have only one top-50 player in its ranks, world no. 21 Benoit Paire.

The tournament has been hit hard by the scheduling of the inaugural ATP Cup. The coveted start-of-the-season slot ahead of the Australian Open, which was earlier Pune’s (and Brisbane’s and Doha’s) is now the ATP Cup’s.

Brisbane was compensated for the loss of its event by being one of the venues for the ATP Cup. And such is Doha’s monetary heft (a financial commitment of $1,465,260 against Pune’s $610,010) that even when run alongside the ATP Cup it could attract two players in top-20 (Stan Wawrinka and Andrey Rublev).

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But Pune has had to push its dates to a window that is sandwiched between the Aussie Open and the hard court swings in Europe and the Americas, and thus settle for a less spectacular field.

“Players have been in Australia for a month, under tough circumstances and probably want to go back home,” said Sunder Iyer, Hon. Secretary of the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association, the host organisation. “The circuit now moves to Europe and it is much easier to start playing there. We were offered one slot later [September] but that would have been tough. Or we had to compete with Doha which has much higher prize money.”

The competition that will run concurrently with Pune now, the ATP 250 in Montepellier, France has also hurt. Though comparable in terms of financial outlay ($672,700 to Pune’s $610,010), its proximity to the ATP 500 in Rotterdam, the next big event in the calendar, has seen four of the world’s top-20 flock to the event.

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“We called all the players, but everyone said that they preferred going to Europe,” said Prashant Sutar, Tournament Director, Tata Open. “Especially those who lost in the first or second rounds in Australia; they won't go home to Europe and then come back to India. We will be raising this issue (with ATP) strongly and that Asian tennis needs to be revamped.”

But Sutar refuted claims that with less star appeal the tournament would become financially unviable. “The idea of this tournament is the projection of Indians and Asians,” he said. “So there’s been no problem with sponsors. There are five Indians in the [singles] main draw. Hopefully, we can get a champion too.”

It was a view that India’s top singles player Prajnesh Gunneswaran concurred with. “It is a standalone tournament because it is not before Australia, but it is good for the Indians,” he said. “With me and Sumit [Nagal] getting in directly, there’s an opportunity for two other Indians. That's not something which happens regularly. Hopefully, all of us will go up a few rounds and get some points that can give us a springboard.”

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