Under Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Maharashtra is fast emerging as the country’s new tennis hub.

End of an era Why Chennai Open is moving to Pune and why it has come as no surprisePTI
Voices Tennis Friday, July 21, 2017 - 13:27
Written by  Sanjay Rajan

For sporting aficionados in Chennai, there was, in fact, over the past few years, an underlying fear that the fabled Chennai Open tennis would eventually be forced to shift.

For those of us who have been regulars at the Nungambakkam Tennis Stadium for over two decades, the dwindling spectatorship, coinciding with a steady drop in the number of top players in the field lately, was becoming increasingly apparent.

On Thursday, our fears came true, with the official announcement from IMG, the rights holders of India’s only ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tour fixture, that come 2018 the event will have a new home in Maharashtra.

Both IMG and the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association have said the shift was purely on commercial grounds, despite the Tamil Nadu government’s financial support.

Maharashtra is fast emerging as the country’s new tennis hub under the flagship of sporting-loving Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who has promised “an elite field every year.” The inaugural Maharashtra Open will be held in Pune in January.

It is well known that Devendra Fadnavis’ wife, Amruta, was an avid tennis player in her younger days. In fact, the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) made her chief patron for the Davis Cup tie between India and New Zealand that was held in Pune in February this year.

It is reliably learnt that the MSLTA is hoping to extend their association with Mrs Fadnavis. In another major development, MSLTA is also likely to host a WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) Tour event in Mumbai in November this year.

An elite field every year, as CM Fadnavis has promised, is the lifeblood of any sporting event, for nothing can compensate for a quality field.

A quality field was the real big draw for the Chennai event for many seasons after it moved to the southern metropolis from New Delhi in 1997 as the Gold Flake Open.

Not to forget Chennai’s tennis tradition, as the city’s sporting fans embraced the event with gusto. The city is widely regarded as the Mecca of Indian tennis, home to two of the country’s greatest tennis families – the Krishnans and the Amritrajs.

Both families also launched their respective tennis academies in the city to nurture young talents from across the country, with another Indian tennis legend, Leander Paes, a product of the Britannia Amritraj Tennis. Paes has often said that he considers Chennai as his second home.

The Chennai Open soon turned to an annual ritual, like the city’s famous Margazhi Utsavam (Music & Arts festival). Coming as it did in the first week of January it turned out to be an extension of the New Year celebrations as the leading lights of world tennis touched down in the city.

Remember, those were pre-Indian Premier League days, and barring the odd international cricket match, live global sporting action in the city was at a premium.

And the line-up of tennis greats that the Chennai public was fortunate to witness in flesh and blood was almost surreal – a Spanish Armada led by former world No 1 Carlos Moya that included Rafael Nadal, we had Boris Becker, Patrick Rafter, Stanislas Wawrinka, Milos Raonic, Marin Cilic, Janko Tipsarevic... the list goes on.

We also had Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi winning as the “Indian Express” for the first three years in Chennai.

In some cases like Boris Becker, it didn’t really matter that he bowed out early, for one was just glad that one got to see the German legend on court!

Over the past few years premier players were at a premium, and the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back was multiple-times winner Wawrinka, a regular in Chennai, breaking his tradition this year.

The three-times Grand Slam winner opted for an exhibition in the UAE before opening the season in Brisbane in the build-up to the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the season.

Money is an integral part of global sport. Not just prize money. There is also appearance money. It certainly makes a difference in a tournament becoming a crowd puller.

The Maharashtra government is certainly pulling its weight to make the tournament a success.

According to the Pune Mirror, the Maharashtra government has asked the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority to fund the cash prizes for the ATP event.

The report further said that funds are also to be raised from other government agencies such as CIDCO, Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation, Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation, Municipal corporations of Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, private banks and corporate CST funds.

While nothing can compensate for a quality field in any sporting event, money is what that brings it together.

Chennai has had its time, now it’s over to Maharashtra.