On the face of it, it's just another WTA Challenger event. The Women's Tennis Association updated their tournament structure this year to bridge the gap between their lowest rung event and the Challenger event by introducing the $125,000 Challengers.
But, the Royal Indian Open, which
begins in Pune on Monday, is still a Challenger event, which means its marketing potential is restricted by the condition that top-50 players cannot participate in it.
And with Indian tennis' poster girl, Sania Mirza, giving it a skip, 42-year-old Kimiko Date-Krumm and former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic have become the face of the event on the tournament billboards.
However, filling the stands is not the sole concern of these tournaments. These tournaments are stepping stones, not only to attract a higher-category event, but also to promote emerging talent in the country.
Ask any tennis expert, and they will tell you that a clutch of Challenger events is one of the major reasons why Europeans are dominating the tennis rankings.
If it wasn't for the event in Pune, local wildcard Rutuja Bhosale, who became the youngest Indian national champion at the age of 15 last year, would be playing a junior tournament far away from home, and which would likely not contribute a whole lot to raise her career graph.
Though the names in the Pune draw won't strike an instant bell, most of them are in the top 100 to 200 category.
More than the prize money itself, it's the points-22 for winning only the first round-that's attractive.
"If I even manage to win a round, I can take a jump of about 200 places in the ranking charts," says the bespectacled Bhosale.
Organisers have invested money to the tune of Rs. 1.5 crore, the state government has played its part by spending Rs. 40 lakh to re-surface the tennis courts, which have been largely unused since the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games.
The fact is that tournaments like these, in times of financial cutbacks and in a country that rarely sells tennis, don't make a great business sense. The fact is also that Indian tennis needs it more than ever.
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