The annual tennis festival, the Chennai Open, has come to mean a lot to players and fans. Here's what some of them feel
Somdev Devvarman, V.M. Ranjeet and Karan Rastogi have all at some point in their growing up years been in the stands of the Nungambakkam Tennis Stadium as fans of Boris Becker, Pat Rafter, Carlos Moya or Paradorn Srichaphan. It's a credit to the longevity of the tournament that each of the young Indian players has gone on to compete in the main draw or in the qualifying rounds of the Chennai Open.
The tournament, in its 14th year in Chennai, has inspired many youngsters to pursue tennis, or at least watch it. It's a different matter that so far none of the Indians has managed to win the singles event.
“As a 12- or 13-year-old, I remember coming here with my father and shouting ‘Becker, Rafter' from the stands. It was an incredible feeling,” says Rastogi. “I used to take autographs from all the top players and was star-struck.”
Rastogi describes the Chennai Open as a big opportunity for Indian players to compete with the best. “The quality of singles is getting better with each year; moreover all players love to come here,” says the 23-year-old.
Chinese Taipei's Yen Hsun-Lu, who won the 2005 doubles title at the Chennai Open, says players love the tournament for its good organisation. “Earlier I used to see people sleeping on the streets. Now I don't see them,” he says. “Everything else is the same once I enter the venue.”
Giant leap forward
Vijay Amritraj, former India player, insists the tournament has gone far ahead from its early days so much so that it doesn't depend much on any star player(s). “It's a huge move,” says Vijay. “It's become the place to be and is a tennis festival now.”
The 56-year-old commentator and entrepreneur says, over the years, the tournament has seen a variety of players and made major strides. “Everyone is involved in the success of the tournament. International Management Group owns and runs it. Strong support has come from the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association, the Tamil Nadu Government and the Sports Development Authority of Tamil Nadu. And, of course, the Chennai public”
When asked about the future of the Chennai Open, Vijay said there is nothing new one can think of, except getting new players from the top 10 each time. “The other things can't change,” he says.
The tournament, Vijay says, will remain a $250 event. Considering the size of the event, it has done extremely well. The only worry, he says, is it should not get stale. The biggest advantage of an event like the Chennai Open, is Indian players have started to train harder than ever before.
At last, sleeping partner in the ATP event, the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA), has woken up to its strengths and is not apologetic about its new face. “From 1997-2004, our role was only peripheral. From 2005-09, it became secondary and from 2009, we have become decision makers and are consulted,” says Karti P Chidambaram, Chairman, Organising Committee, 2010 Aircel Chennai Open. Owners of the event, IMG, and a revamped TNTA, can — provided there is understanding and co-ordination between the two — do wonders for the subsequent editions of the Chennai Open.