For many years now, the Chennai Open has been India's only ATP tournament. And while it's difficult and expensive to get another similar tournaments, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) has not done much in getting smaller tournaments here either.
India is currrently hosting three back-to-back ATP Challenger tournaments. The last of the three tournaments is a 100,00 USD event, and is currently underway in Delhi. And while the tournament may not boast of big names, it is a huge boost for India's domestic players.
In October 2010, Somdev Devvarman won his singles final on RK Khanna Tennis Stadium's Centre Court, to win a Commonwealth Games gold. From then to now, barring a Davis Cup tie, the venue has not hosted a single tournament of significance. It was in 2008 - the year he turned pro, that Devvarman last played an ATP Challenger tournament in India. After a gap of 5 years, India has got three consecutive ATP Challenger tournaments. Chennai and Kolkata hosted tournaments before Delhi.
The lack of tournaments in India has affected the players too, as they use these competitions to improve rankings. "This is a great opportunity for the guys who are in the 300s in rankings. They can now make it to the 200s", Devvarman told NDTV.
In the last two competitions, Yuki Bhambri won a singles competition while Sanam Singh and Saketh Myneni won a doubles titles. More Challenger tournaments are only going to improve these records. "I think the good thing is that more than role models, we're now becoming competitors", said Devvarman.
There are more benefits too!
Saketh Myneni, who recently contributed in India's Davis Cup win vs Chinese Taipei, said, "It's great to play at home, because it's easier to travel here. Otherwise we are travelling from one continent to another, to play tournaments, and the travel can often leave you exhausted. Most importantly, this is great exposure for the players."
The entire project however, will be pointless if this turns out to be a one-off exercise. "We've been given a lot of promise that this will happen next year too, in a bigger and better way. I'd definitely like to see that happen", said Devvarman.
Entry for the ongoing tournament in Delhi is free but the stands have been fairly empty for the first couple of days. "Once we get more tournaments, we can advertise them better, and plan on getting more people, specially school children", former Indian Davis Cupper Vishaal Uppal told NDTV.
The AITA is finally making the push to get more of these tournaments to India. After all, apart from gaining crucial points, it's a great way for the players to prepare for the next level of tournaments on the ATP tour.