Tata Open Maharashtra: Big names missing, all eyes on Indians

The launch of ATP Cup and the tournament being scheduled in the week after the Australian Open, it has become hard for the organisers to draw the big names.

Prajnesh Gunneswaran during a practice session ahead of the Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune.   -  R. Ragu

It should have been a special year. It should have been the celebration of the best in tennis. The 2020 Tata Open Maharashtra, after all,  marks the 25th year of the ATP tour event happening in India. The 25 glorious years have seen the likes of Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, Marin Cilic and Carlos Moya making India as the pit-stop for their Australian Open preparations. Conducive weather and conditions, perfect timing, the tournament had the zing.

For 25 years, it was the preferred stop. For some, it was even lucky to begin the season here.

But the launch of ATP Cup has changed all that this year. Slotted in the week after the Australian Open, it has become doubly hard for the organisers to draw the big names.

To compensate for the lack of star power - there is only one player from the top 50 (Benoit Paire), the singles event will see five Indians in the main draw: two direct entries and three wild cards in the main draw — giving the players the best opportunity to earn some crucial ATP points in the Olympic year.

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“We are hoping that this year, the Indians will do something great. We might get some Indian champion in the singles and doubles. It was the main objective of this tournament - that Indians should benefit out of this," Prashant Sutar, the tournament director said.

Also, by offering Leander Paes the doubles wild card, it has added the charm of playing host to Leander’s last ATP tournament on Indian soil, in all likeliness. Bengaluru Open challenger next week is a distant possibility.

“He is playing his last tournament here. We are hoping that he as well as the tennis lovers will enjoy his last appearance here. We hope that he wins this tournament as we have a lot of things planned for him,” Sutar said.

To add to that, the centre court will feature one doubles game everyday this year, a departure from the usual schedule.

He, however, did admit that the ATP Cup and the change in dates have affected the tournament. “You have about seven to eight weeks of action with Doha, ATP Cup and Australian Open. They're exhausted and everybody wants to go home. At the same time there is a tournament in Europe in Montpelier, so obviously Europeans would like to play there. The next week, you have the ATP 500 in Rotterdam which is indoor, so they want to prepare for that,” he said.

The alternate option - to host in September - is not viable considering the monsoon and the clash with the American season. The only option, now, is to convince the ATP to commit a certain number of top players for the event, a topic Sutar is intending to take up when he meets ATP executive vice-president Allison Lee on Thursday. He is confident of getting more top players. 

The crowd attendance will be the real litmus test for the tournament’s success this year. Around 50 per cent of the tickets have been sold in the last three days. “As the tournament grows, the ticket sale will be more. We have been seeing that the tickets get sold out for the last three days,” he said, hoping for a similar trend this year.

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“There has been no pressure from the sponsors. We have their full commitment for the full five years (till 2022),” the tournament director said.

“As long as it returns to India we are fine because the main objective is to have the ATP tour event in India. Secondly, the main objective is not to just have the event here, but it is about growing the awareness of tennis in Maharashtra. We have started the high performance Academy as part of the ATP tie-up. So, we now have about 50 players playing district tennis. We are giving free coaching, so it is an overall package what we're doing along with this tournament,” he said. 

“What we have understood is that tennis has been played only in cities so far. We don't have a top hundred player right now in the world. So if you have one player in the top, probably more and more talent will come up. For that we need to reach out at district level. We have already started spending a lot of money on district development centers. We have a High Performance Center here in Balewadi and the Indian No. 1 in U-12 and U-14 are playing with us. We have some foreign trainers and we are a full fledged tennis Academy,” he said, highlighting the positives that have come out of hosting the Tata Open Maharashtra in the city so far.

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