Does India need ATP 250 event in wake of poor show by singles player?
None of the current generation of India players has managed to cross even the second round in four editions of the Tata Open Maharashtra
An ATP World Tour event at home is the best opportunity the Indian singles players could have, to earn points, move up the ranking ladder apart from filling their pockets with decent prize money to survive on the Pro circuit. However, the heavy investment which is no less than Rs 15 crore each year, has not been utilised by the current generation of India players as none of them has managed to cross even the second round in four editions of the Tata Open Maharashtra.
The lanky and the fit Ramkumar Ramanathan has made the second round twice (2018, 2019) while Prajnesh Gunneswaran (2020) and Yuki Bhambri (2018) cleared the first round once each. Out-of-action Sumit Nagal, Arjun Kadhe and Sasi Kumar Mukund could not even win one round. When the tournament was in Chennai before it moved to Pune after 20 years, Somdev Devvarman's inspirational run to the final in the 2009 edition remains the best performance by an Indian singles players.
And if at all, India's current singles players, save Yuki, are getting to compete at this level is because of wild cards being offered to them. On the contrary, country's doubles players have won the home event multiple times. Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan won the trophy in 2019 while the former also won it in 2017 in Chennai with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan. And there were deeper runs by the doubles players even if they fell short of title clash. At the ongoing edition in Pune, except Yuki, no one has advanced to the second round with Ramkumar, Prajnesh and Kadhe making first-round exits.
Disappointment has definitely crept in and the relevance of the tournament for India is being discussed at many levels. It is being thought about if India needs a big-ticket event like an ATP 250 since hosting multiple Challengers with the same money could be of more help to the players. Despite the frustration, the organisers won't back off and will continue to keep the tournament on the calender. Even the former players feel that India does need a tournament like this even if the singles players don't do well. "Sure we do," legendary Mahesh Bhupathi told PTI when asked if India need such an event.
"Yuki made more points and money, and confidence this week than he would in two rounds of a Challenger. Winning at the highest level be it singles or doubles instills a lot of confidence. "And the points and money help too so the Indian boys get this opportunity once a year and I think it's great to have it," Bhupathi said further. It is true. Yuki earned USD 9,235 (approximately Rs 7 lakh) and 20 points for his second round appearance. While at the next week's Bengaluru Open Challenger, the winner will get USD 7,200 and the quarterfinalists gets 16 rankings points. So, playing the bigger events certainly has advantages.
Former Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj said India must keep a big event in the country. "If it is a choice between five Challenger tournaments and one ATP 250 due to sponsorship reasons, then it would probably be better to have the Challengers. Having said that, I would hate to see India lose the only ATP event we have," Amritraj told PTI from Los Angeles. But he also wants Indian players to make full use of the big tournament. "The more important question is, why are our boys not performing better in their home tournament. I had a long chat with Ramkumar at Indian Wells in October, and told him he had the size and the talent to be a consistent top 100 player.
"I haven't had any contact with Yuki, Prajnesh or Sumit, since I haven't been to India in the last two years. All of them should perform better, especially at home. "In the old days, Vijay and I used to look forward to the Indian Open. Vijay won it, I reached the semis in singles, and we won the doubles, it was always one of our best tournaments of the year," he said. No Indian has won an ATP singles event since Leander Paes won at Newport in 1998. Before him Ramesh Krishnan won in 1980s and Vijay Amritraj in 1970s. Ramkumar made the final at Hall of Fame Open in Newport in 2018, while Somdev reached the final in Johannesburg (SA Tennis Open) in 2011.
MSLTA, the organisers of Tata Open along with the state government, say they won't give up on hosting the tournament irrespective of the singles results. "So many countries don't have home grown players doing well in their tournaments. How ATP, WTA circuits will stay if all nations start thinking like that," said Sunder Iyer, MSLTA Secretary. "You can take the horse to the water and not make it drink it. It's not just about the players. How many countries have an ATP event. it's about brand India and the country's presence in global tennis calendar." Iyer has a point. In smaller events like ITF Futures or Challengers, the sponsor don't get much mileage but an ATP 250 event gets all the attention. Brand value is zero in smaller tournament but Tata Open is being watched by two million people. It is being broadcast in 66 nations on 8-9 different platforms.
"We are at par with the Sydney event. When you do bigger events, you are visible. Even if our players don't do well, tennis is seen and heard. If we don't do it how will our players get this exposure. "Close to 15 Indian players are competing in Pune. Will it happen outside the country. By hosting it, we are saving at least 80 lakh rupees of the players since they would have spent that much to be in ATP draws abroad," said Iyer. Somdev also thinks that this tournament needs to stay. "Bigger tournament's are always better. Don't just look at the current generation. But also the next. When I was a kid the Chennai Open meant everything to me," he said. "And look at it more holistically. Having the biggest events in the country is always a bonus in the long run," added Somdev.