With the Chennai Open finding its feet and the Delhi Open getting a healthy response, Indian tennis has started capitalising on the big events at home.
Indian tennis is on a robust new high, with two top-150 players. The country’s No.1 among men, Somdev Devvarman may have temporarily slipped from 90 to 100, but Yuki Bhambri has shot up from 198 to 145 within a few weeks this season.
For long, the utility of the Chennai Open ATP tennis event has been questioned. However, by backing the big event with a string of Challengers, the officials governing the game in the country have shown considerable vision, this time. Delhi boy Yuki, a former world No.1 junior and Youth Olympics silver medallist became the first Indian since Leander Paes in 2000, to win a Challenger singles title at home, when he won in Chennai. He had also become only the third Indian after Paes and Devvarman to make the singles quarterfinals of the $430,000 Chennai Open in its 18-year history.
While Yuki has been the big success story in recent times, the big-serving Saketh Myneni who had a memorable Davis Cup debut against Chinese Taipei recently in Indore when he won the doubles with Rohan Bopanna apart from a singles match had given a hint of his ability by reaching the doubles semi-finals at the Chennai Open. Saketh, in partnership with Karen Khachanov of Russia, had beaten the top-seeded Bopanna and Aisam-Ul-Haq Qureshi in the quarterfinals.
Even though the last few years may not have witnessed a Challenger at home, there have been many Challengers in the past. The Indian players have started capitalising on them. Paes had won three in a row in Delhi, Lucknow and Jaipur in 1999, for a career collection of 11 singles titles. He had also won the ATP Tour event on grass in Newport in 1998.
Apart from Yuki, R. Ramkumar was a classic case, as the 19-year-old Chennai boy, who has been training and competing in Europe for some years, qualified for the Chennai Open and beat Devvarman in the first round. He has not won a match in the two Challengers in Chennai and Kolkata so far, and will be thirsting to make an impact this week in Delhi in the $100,000 event.
Saketh Myneni and Sanam Singh made the singles quarterfinals in Chennai, in which Yuki Bhambri won a double crown. Sriram Balaji made the doubles final with Blaz Rola of Slovenia. Divij Sharan and Vishnu Vardhan along with Saketh and Sanam marched to the final in Kolkata to provide a further hint that the future of Indian doubles was quite secure.
The packed calendar at home also has its pitfalls. There has been no breathing space for the top players like Devvarman and Yuki, who have been negotiating the Chennai Open, the Australian Open, the Davis Cup and three Challengers. The rest have the start-up events, five Futures on the trot over the next five weeks in Chandigarh, Bhimavaram, Chennai, Trichy and Madurai.
Overall, it may perhaps be an example for the ‘law of diminishing returns’, as the players will struggle with the problem of plenty! Anyway, it will be interesting to see how the players capitalise on the climax of the big circuit this week, as the rewards will be double, as compared to the $50,000 events held over the last two weeks. Some of the players may have actually preserved themselves for the final assault at big money and ranking points. That should be good news for the tennis enthusiasts of the Capital who have otherwise been promised a memorable time at R. K. Khanna Stadium.
Over to Delhi
It may not be a tennis fiesta, but the Delhi Open is definitely a tennis festival. From being unique for having both the grass and synthetic courts, the R. K. Khanna tennis stadium will now earn the unique distinction of holding both the men’s and women’s professional events at the same time.
The stadium, named after the late president of the All India Tennis Association (AITA), had hosted the first ATP tour event in the country, the $430,000 McDowell Indian Open in 1996. The Commonwealth Games in 2010, for which the government had spent about 65 crore rupees in restructuring the stadium complex had witnessed packed stands. The spectators were then rewarded by the exploits of Somdev Devvarman who won the men’s singles gold and Sania Mirza who captured the women’s silver. Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna were not able to make much of an impact.
With three Tour events and two other Challengers scheduled this week around the world, there are not many current top-100 players in action in the Delhi Open. However, except for the doubles stars, the cream of Indian tennis are in action this week. The matches are being played in the evening, with free entry for fans.