In a setback for Indian tennis in terms of having presence on the ATP Tour, the country has lost its only ATP 250 tournament, an event that was first held way back in 1996 and till recently was organized as Tata Open Maharashtra.
The Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) had saved it from going out the country in 2018 when Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA) gave up on hosting the tournament after conducting it for 13 long years.
The tournament was an arrangement between MSLTA, Maharashtra government, IMG and RISE Worldwide (an initiative of the Reliance Group), the owner of the tournament.
"The contract with IMG and RISE stands successfully completed, MSLTA has undertaken all its commitments towards successful conduct of the event for 5 years," MSLTA Secretary Sunder Iyer and Tournament Director Prashant Sutar said in a statement.
"We still have a commitment from both the Government of Maharashtra and our sponsors TATA for promoting Tennis in Maharashtra and India when we have the right opportunities to organize any other major event which we are pursuing in right earnest currently in interest of our players and Indian tennis fraternity," they added.
Is it really a big loss ?
In terms of presence, it definitely is a setback. Being on the ATP World Tour has lot of benefits, not just for the sport but also for the city that hosts the event. The sport gets popularity when players like iconic Rafael Nadal, Carlos Moya, Stanislas Wawrinka and Marin Cilic compete in this tournament.
It brings more people into the game while the city too gets prominence. However, recently Cilic was the best the organisers could rope in. But looking from the perspective of its benefit to Indian singles players, it can't be called a setback.
The Indian players, due to their low ranking, mostly had to depend on wild cards to enter the event. The tournament offered 1250 ATP Ranking points in five editions and Indian players could earn only 80. They could never go beyond second round.
So, instead of a big tournament like this, having Challengers is more beneficial. It has been proved multiple times. Yuki Bhambri, making full use of KPIT Challenger broke into top-100 in 2015. Winning the Bengaluru Challenger gave Sumit Nagal's career a big push and Prajnesh Guneswaran too exploited the opportunity when he did well in the Challengers held in India.
Why the tournament is moving out
It's not easy in India to raise money for a game like tennis in the absence of star appeal. Super stars like Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi hung up their racquets long back and there is not even one Indian singles player ranked inside in top-200 in the world. The best player in terms of ranking is Nagal, who is placed 225 and the next best is much behind at number 374, Mukund Sasikumar.
So it becomes very difficult to bring in sponsors when you don't have home grown stars in the field. MSLTA had to shell out no less than Rs 15 crore ever year for hosting this tournament. It means they spent at least Rs 75 crore in their five-year commitment which began in 2018. Out of the total budget, at least Rs 5.2 crore is required to distribute prize money, while rest of the expenses included organisation, hospitality, players' appearance fee and owners' royalty sum of the tournament.
The Maharashtra government was paying Rs 5 crore for this and rest was to be raised by MSLTA. It has been learnt that while organisers could have managed Rs 10 crore but were not keen to shell out more. It has also been learnt that the tournament will be relocated to Hong Kong, though a contract has not been signed as yet. Indian doubles players though benefitted a lot by playing in this tournament.
In the current generation, Rohan Bopanna, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, N Balaji and Saketh Myneni made good use of the tournament to earn ranking points and prize money. Another tennis tournament that is moving out of country is the WTA event hosted in Chennai.