BENGALURU: Thirty-seven Grand Slam titles and three Davis Cup runners-up medals later, India is still some way away from becoming a tennis nation. Barring a few ITF Future events, there are not many notable tournaments at home for Indian players to collect ranking points from.
As of 2018, India only has one ATP 250 event, three Challenger events and one WTA 125K series competition. Next year onwards, this number could be less. Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) is facing financial challenges to host the Pune Challenger and it could face the axe with new rules increasing the draw size from 32 to 48.
Amidst such scenes, Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA) has managed to do a good job. Once a WTA Tier II event, Bangalore Open went off the calendar in 2009. It was brought back in 2015 as a $50,000 event but was not held in 2016. Last year, with the help of state government, Bengaluru Open — a $100,000+hospitality ATP Challenger Tour event — was held. It has since seen a steady growth with the prize money equalling the highest category on the Challenger Tour ($150,000+H).
“Financial challenges are there. But it was a conscious decision to bring it back. We knew the operating costs would only go higher but we had tremendous support from the state government,” said Sunil Yajaman, tournament director and vice-president of KSLTA. The state government is bearing 50 per cent of the total cost, which is around Rs 3 crore this year. KSLTA has managed to rope in some big brands also for the rest.
“The government wants the city to become a sports hub and with the Bengaluru Open, they see an opportunity to create a brand. The same can be said of our sponsors,” Yajaman said. “It helps local as well as the Indian players who barely get to play such Challenger events.”
In the last edition, Sumit Nagal clinched the singles title to climb 96 places in ATP rankings for a career-best 225 at that time. It helped him enter the qualifying draw of the Australian Open. With changes in the ranking system coming into effect in 2019, Challenger Tour will be an important stepping stone for many Indians. “The win really helped me as I was at my career high after the final. It’s very important to have such events in the country,” said Nagal, who received a wild card this year.
Making a comeback from injury, Saketh Myneni too lauded the efforts to upgrade the competition. “There are very few tournaments in India. And it’s good for Indians to be playing in front of the home crowd. Bengaluru stepping up in terms of prize money helps our cause,” he said.
“It’s nice to have Challengers in India. We have the advantage with home conditions and not having to travel that far,” said Prajnesh Gunneswaran, the highest ranked Indian.
While the KSLTA promising that the next few years of the event are in safe hands, the aim is to have another ATP 250 tournament. “We have already indicated our desire to host an ATP Tour event. It’s for the ATP to decide as they have to make room for such event,” Yajaman said.