"The Tata Open Maharashtra should boost Indian tennis players," says Tournament Director
Overcoming challenges, Tournament Director of Tata Open Maharashtra, Prashant Sutar hopes that the event gives a boost to Indian tennis by attracting a stellar competition to Pune.
Tennis is all set to make a grand return in India with the upcoming 4th Tata Open Maharashtra ATP 250 event that is scheduled to be held from January 31st to February 6th at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune. Being the lone ATP tournament in South Asia, the Tata Open Maharashtra, which is owned by IMG and operated by RISE Worldwide will swing into action after one year owing to the COVID-19 pandemic playing spoilsport to it in 2021.
Having featured the likes of 20-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal, 3-time Grand Slam winner Stanislas Wawrinka and of course, Indian tennis ace and 18-time Grand Slam champion, Leander Paes in its previous editions, the Tata Open Maharashtra 2022 will also see upcoming tennis sensations like World No. 15 Aslan Karatsev, Lorenzo Musetti and defending champion, Jiri Vesely in action.
Ahead of the tournament that is due to kick-off from January 31st, The Bridge caught up with the Tournament Director of the Tata Open Maharashtra, Mr Prashant Sutar and engaged with him on a variety of topics - ranging from the challenges they are combatting to stage the event amidst an omicron wave to what it means to hold a tournament of this stature to what the future of Indian tennis looks like.
Here are the excerpts from the conversation:
The Bridge(TB): The Tata Open Maharashtra (TOM) is finally back again - how does it feel? What are the trials and tribulations, myriad challenges that you had to undergo in making it happen?
Mr Prashant Sutar (PS): We are really excited to have Tata Open Maharashtra back again. It is one of the most prestigious and flagship tournaments in Indian sports. Because of Covid, it was difficult for the players to continue their training or travel abroad to play tournaments for almost a year now.
Of course, there were many challenges initially like visa clearance, ensuring Disaster Management and State and Central Health clearances and getting all of these executed in just 10 days, we just didn't know how this will be possible but we are glad we could manage all these jobs well within time and are now waiting for the tournament to take off.
While the constant changes in Covid-19 regulations, managing the logistics and more was tough. And then there was this sudden increase in the cases due to the new variant so we had to rework our plans. The support from the Government, MSLTA and our sponsor Tata Motors enabled us to put everything in place. There is also the crucial contribution from my fellow colleagues, Mr Sanjay Khandare, a senior bureaucrat and Treasurer of the tournament and Mr Pravin Darade, Organising Secretary for the Tournament, who stepped in whenever we got stuck or had to fast track the process.
With ensuring this tournament is hosted this year, the objective is that our own Indian players get benefit and because of that we have taken up all the challenges so far and decided to move forward and make it happen this year.
TB: Can you take us through the organisational aspect of Tata Open Maharashtra 2022 - given that COVID-19 has not put down its ugly head - what are the safety measures that will be followed for the event?
PS: We are following all the safety measures to avoid any situation that would put an adverse impact on the tournament. There are certain COVID protocols in place and we will be doing Rapid Antigen testing for all players, officials and others involved daily. There will be a controlled environment set up with no outside interference for the players during the tournament and mobile testing vans will be present 24x7 both at the stadium as well as at the hotel.
For emergencies, a hospital is identified, and a doctor and Tournament Infection Control Officer (TICO) has also been appointed so that all close contact tracing is possible if there's any positive case incident. And the most important part, all the players and everyone coming to the tournament need to be fully vaccinated as part of protocols set by the government. The safety of the players as well as others involved will be of prime importance to us and we will not compromise on that.
TB: The list of players featuring this year is also quite exciting with Aslan Karatsev, Lorenzo Musetti coming. Among Indians, we'll see Yuki Bhambri, Rohan Bopanna, Ramkumar Ramanathan in the field too. What are your expectations from the tournament in that regard, as far as the competition goes?
PS: Over the years we MSLTA and our sponsors have put in great efforts to host the tournament and it gives us immense pleasure that players from all over the world show interest to come and play in our tournaments in India, right from the Davis Cup, WTA to recently concluded series of ITTF events that were held in Pune. This year too we have a very strong field with the presence of exciting players from the Top-20. We are certainly very excited and it would be a treat to watch these players competing for the title.
TB: How does an event like the Tata Open Maharashtra stand to benefit Indian tennis?
PS: This is a good platform for Indian players too and this year three players have received a direct entry in the main draw which is great. We will also be giving a couple of wildcards too and I would like to see them go deep into the semi-finals and finals as our motto is to bring the Indian tennis players to the forefront. However, it surely wasn't easy. There will be continuous tennis action as we have some big names coming this weekend from almost 23 countries.
TB: As the Tournament Director, which has been your favourite bit in this role?
PS: I feel just being part of such an energetic team led by Sunder Iyer and Bharat Oza at Maharashtra Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) who are not only passionate but go-getters when it comes to tennis. Even if there are challenges with resources or situations they have been steadfast and just being part of the ship and steering it, is itself the most gratifying thing that one can think of.
TB: Can you mention any anecdotes from previous editions that make this event that has seen the likes of Rafa Nadal participate, so special for you?
PS: As far as anecdotes are concerned, I thoroughly remember the 2019 edition as Divij Sharan and Rohan Bopanna won the doubles title. That was the moment I really cherish as this tournament we want to promote Indian players and it's always great to see our players doing well.
Also, in the last edition, there was a doubles match of Leander Paes and Australia's Matthew Ebden against the Indian Duo of Purav Raja and Ramkumar Ramanathan as they had a really good match in the quarterfinals that is something which is still etched in my memory among all the three editions of the tournament so far. I hope there will be more glorious moments in the upcoming edition.
TB: It's a particularly exciting time for Indian tennis now - Bopanna and Ramanathan won in Adelaide, Sania Mirza went till the quarters at the Australian Open after announcing her retirement and at the same time, the junior players like Manas Dhamne, Rushil Khosla are all coming up strong - how would you assess the present scene of Indian tennis?
PS: It is great to see these players slowly but steadily proving to be tough competitors at global tournaments. We hope we can continue to see more tennis players coming up the rank from the various junior and grassroot and making the country proud. Also, these youngsters are performing brilliantly which gives us hopes of a good future ahead for Indian tennis.
There are many youngsters who we have backed since their junior days and are now making big strides. Tennis is growing in India for sure but that growth needs to be sustained and aggregated so that soon tennis, too, starts to spring in more and more champions for India.
TB: Finally, what do you think needs to be done to ensure tennis in India is growing more steadily. If you had to suggest changes, what would you pass on, as a tennis lover and enthusiast?
PS: We hope through the prestigious tournaments like Tata Open Maharashtra, players get the excitement to push their limits, work more on their diet, nutrition and be motivated to achieve big.
India is full of talents but to enrich the player pool we need to be reaching every district of the state and that has been our aim through various initiatives including the Maha Tennis Foundation.
We have identified a few players in the junior circuit in India and have been supporting them with whatever they need and we are ready to do more to find the future champions for the country. That is what our motto is and we hope to support and encourage the sport more in whatever best possible manners.