“ Adengappa ,” exclaims Ramanathan Krishnan, when this reporter tells him that South Asia’s only ATP tennis tournament has completed 18 years. “Is it so? I can’t believe it is going to be the 19th year. I lost count. Time flies,” says the 76-year-old tennis legend.” “I am very happy that Chennai is still hosting the tournament.”
For Krishnan, what stands out in the last 18 years has been the exemplary organisational skills of those behind the event — The International Management Group (IMG) and the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA). The Wimbledon singles semifinalist is of the opinion that the Chennai Open has become an ideal warm-up event ahead of the Australian Open. “It’s like the Queen’s Club event before Wimbledon,” he says.
If one looks at it, the tournament is a pretty old, having spanned generations, according to Krishnan. “So much so parents and their wards now watch it together.”
During my time, says Krishnan, there was no Nungambakkam Stadium. “The stadium is certainly a boon for the public and the players.”
Rohan Bopanna’s best years have been in Chennai and the Nungambakkam Stadium is close to his heart. The doubles specialist, ranked 13 in the world, has “very fond memories” of the stadium. “There are so many memories — Prakash Amritraj and I reaching the final of the ATP event here in 2006, and my winning the Futures tournament in 2002. I qualified twice in the singles (’06 & ’09) of the Chennai Open. Chennai has been a good hunting ground for me,” he recalls.
Sandeep Kirtane, though, regrets having lost to Vladimir Voltchkov (Russia) in the qualifying round of the 1998 Gold Flake Open in Chennai. “Had I beaten him, I would perhaps have met Boris Becker in the first round of the main draw,” says Sandeep, who played doubles in three Gold Flake Open tournaments from 1997-2000.
“I enjoyed my time. Everyone loves to play in Chennai. I enjoyed my practice sessions with the foreigners,” says Sandeep who believes the tournament has helped a lot of Indian players improve their skills. “It has benefited Indian players. Somdev Devvarman has been an inspiration for all. Yuki (Bhambri) has done well. Moreover, the Chennai crowd is knowledgeable and fun,” he says.
For tennis star Ramesh Krishnan, there are a lot of happy memories as “my children and I have grown-up watching the matches.” According to him, Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi claiming three back-to-back doubles titles here (1997-1999), Boris Becker’s arrival in 1998, the clashes between Paradorn Srichaphan and Carlos Moya, and the year (2008) Rafael Nadal played, have been the major highpoints of the Open.
The tournament may have undergone changes in name — the Gold Flake Open, the Tata Open and the now The Chennai Open — but its character hasn’t, says Krishnan. “There hasn’t been much of a change in tennis except in the serves — both first and second — which have become powerful and the change in the tournament's dates from April to January." The rest, he says, has been constant. “The organisation has been good and the organisers have been conscious of their responsibilities. The best part is that the players have kept coming for the Open.”
According to Bopanna conducting the tournament for the last 18 years has been a major achievement. “It’s always hard. The IMG and TNTA have done a great job; especially the TNTA helping several young players get sponsorships.”
The 19 edition, the Aircel-Chennai Open, too, has some of the best of players taking part.
With the confirmation of two former champions Stanislas Wawrinka and Mikhail Youzhny, the tournament to be held at the Nungambakkam Stadium from December 30 to January 5, 2014, is certain to offer tennis buffs a week of pure excitement.
Krishnan, though, has one wish. “I hope they organise a similar tournament for women concurrently with the men. It will add value and glamour. I hope it happens one day,” he signs off.