Challengers Accomplished: What Now?

Though tournaments are held worldwide for lower-ranked players, the dearth of competitive ATP events at the domestic level had left players yearning for more.

Published: 01st March 2014 08:59 AM  |   Last Updated: 01st March 2014 09:15 AM   |  A+A-

Jerry-Dunn

The one complaint oft heard in Indian tennis circles is the lack of exposure for players. While training facilities have improved, players are many a time robbed of a reality check — if they are good enough to compete at the highest level.

Though tournaments are held worldwide for lower-ranked players, the dearth of competitive ATP events at the domestic level had left players yearning for more. The Chennai Open, an ATP World Tour 250 series, has been an exception.

In such a scenario, the decision of the All India Tennis Association (AITA) to hold three consecutive Challenger events in the country after a five-year hiatus was warmly welcomed. The last time India hosted a Challenger was in August 2008 in New Delhi.

Local Exposure

A number of Indian players got a readymade platform to showcase their talent. “It did a world of good to all of us. Indians fared well consistently, every week. I played my best game after a long time,” says Yuki Bhambri, who won both the singles and doubles title in Chennai.

“I didn’t expect it to be so competitive. This is just the first step. We have the belief that we can perform well and that’s half the battle won. It has boosted my confidence too. Earlier, I was content with playing a competitive match but now I look at beating higher-ranked opponents,” he adds.

Chennai’s Ramkumar Ramanathan got the opportunity to play his maiden Challenger game. “I hope they host many such tournaments as we get to play against and practice with a lot of top players,” he says.

Rankings Boost

It also helped them zoom up in the rankings chart. Somdev Devvarman, who ended his title drought by winning in New Delhi, broke into the top 100 again. Yuki made it to the top 150 while the team of Saketh Myneni and Sanam Singh, who won titles in Kolkata and New Delhi, leaped places in the doubles rankings.

“This should not be a one-off thing. Indians have proved that they can do well. We are ready,” says Yuki.

N Sriram Balaji was only too happy to grab this opportunity. “Ranking-wise it helped me move into the top 200 in doubles. My next target is the top 150,” he adds.

Less Expensive

Three weeks of tennis at home means no visa issues and lesser expenditure. “Playing a tournament at home means not much travel and less expense,” says Saketh.

Ramkumar adds, “Travelling for tournaments in Spain or Europe is usually very expensive. So it’s good when we get to play at home. We have to take this forward step by step.”

Scheduling Issues

However, three weeks of non-stop tennis can make it strenuous. “The ideal situation would have been two weeks of matches, a break and then the remaining matches. But we can’t complain. I hope the association puts in better planning and understanding into the scheduling next time,” feels Yuki.

Saketh thinks otherwise. “Challengers are tough. To play in three tournaments consecutively takes a lot of effort. But the scheduling is good. Coming in from the off-season, it gives us the platform to start the year on a positive note,” he says.

Sriram adds a different perspective. “Three weeks were not hectic but we are also playing five weeks of Futures after that. So in all, it’s eight weeks of non-stop tennis. Had it been a one-week challenger, then a break, a lot more Indians ranked between 300 and 400 would have got the opportunity,” he adds.

Davis Cup Factor

All said and done, these Challengers have given national selectors plenty of options for the Davis Cup tie in April. “In the Davis Cup at the Asia/Oceania level, we will be playing against players at this level. Though we have never beaten Korea in Korea, given the current form of our players, we are going there as favourites. We deserve a chance to play in the World Group Playoffs,” signs off Yuki.

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