With the SDAT Stadium getting ready for the 2013 edition of the Chennai Open, set to commence on December 31, fans hope the city will continue to host the prestigious tournament in the years to come

Winter nights are best enjoyed in Chennai. The air is just right: crisp and refreshing, not forbiddingly frosty. And on seven of those nights, some of the world’s best tennis players — Pat Rafter, Boris Becker, Rafael Nadal, and Carlos Moya are among those that have come — offer entertainment not found anywhere else in India.

But as the 2013 edition of the Chennai Open is set to begin, there’s the vague danger of winters not being the same anymore. The current contract for the tournament ends with this edition. The Tamil Nadu Tennis Association is in talks with IMG, which owns the tournament, and an announcement is expected on the day of the final. Indications are that the negotiations are going well, but you never know in such situations.

As is frequently the case, the possibility of losing something makes you better appreciate what you had. The Chennai Open has done much for tennis, for both those who play it and those who follow it.

The breakthroughs

TNTA CEO Hiten Joshi refers to the breakthroughs in the tournament. “Leander (Paes) and Mahesh (Bhupathi) won their first ATP event in Chennai, Somdev (Devvarman) reached his first ever ATP final here,

Rohan’s (Bopanna) first ever doubles final was here, all these first-evers have been in Chennai,” he says.

There’s no doubt the tournament has given top Indian talents an exposure — even if it has been brief in some cases — to the highest level. It has also helped spread the game by making top-rate tennis accessible. Says Joshi: “You don’t get to watch this quality anywhere in the world at this price [season tickets from Rs. 1,500 to Rs. 5,000; daily prices differ. That itself is a big boon to any tennis lover.” The effect of watching tennis live can’t be overstated; it stirs your senses, it broadens your perception. Ramkumar Ramanathan, currently 18 and ranked 796th in the world, was transformed after his parents took him as a ten-year-old to the SDAT Tennis Stadium.

“I could feel their power, their spin, their speed,” says Ramkumar. “The final between (Paradorn) Srichapan and (Carlos) Moya in 2005 was incredible. There was just so much intensity, it was unbelievable shot-making; they just went for it. Watching such tennis makes you want to play at that level too.

“The more you watch, the more you begin to think how you would construct the same points, you watch how they play under pressure, what they do that works, you learn so much. But it’s not just thinking. That happens automatically. It’s also a lot of fun because you love the game.”

The TNTA is aware of the importance of juniors watching tennis. Secretary C.B.N. Reddy, who is part of the tournament committee, says the association is giving academies free tickets for the first three days. It also solves a problem tournaments everywhere in the world have with early attendance.

“We have a capacity of 5,800 which is almost filled on the last three days,” says Reddy, “but it’s not quite the same on the first three days because the top players aren’t meeting each other yet and the Indian doubles stars haven’t begun as yet. There has been an improvement over the last two years. We hardly had anyone before that, but the last two years we had close to 2000. This initiative (tickets for juniors) will also help.”

Things have come together at the SDAT Tennis Stadium: re-laid courts; re-painted walls; re-built stalls. You hope it isn’t for the last time.