Chennai Open: Banking on veterans to get in the crowds

  • Krithika Gopalkrishnan, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Dec 23, 2014 11:28 IST

In an apparent attempt to get better crowd response than last year, the organisers of the Chennai Open are looking to get a 'retired' Mahesh Bhupathi back in the fray.

Karti Chidambaram, chairperson of the tournament's organising committee, has made many statements about supporting young players in the past but has chosen to favour veteran Bhupathi over the present crop.

The 40-year-old Bhupathi has said often enough he will not continue on the tour and spoken about retirement. He last played in a competitive match almost nine months ago, in Miami.

Bhupathi, who has won 52 doubles titles, would be partnering Saketh Myneni at the 20th edition of India's lone ATP event.

Explaining his logic Chidambaram said, "Mahesh is a former champion and a multiple Grand Slam winner. He wanted to make a comeback and play with Saketh, which is why we decided to give him a wild card entry."

Sriram Balaji and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan are the other two players to get wild cards in the doubles event.

"We have not ignored the youngsters. Ramkumar Ramanathan has been given an entry in singles. It's our policy not to give the same player a wild card entry in both singles and doubles," Chidambaram added.

The fact is that throughout the last edition and more crucially even on Saturday, the stands at the event had not filled up. Even when two Indians faced off – Yuki Bhambri and local man Ramkumar Ramanathan – Chennai seemed aloof about the event. Bhambri's quarterfinal too had seen muted crowd response.

For Myneni, it's a case of extremes. In the previous edition, he played alongside 17-year-old Russian Karen Khachanov and made it to the semifinals.

"Mahesh approached me and asked if I would partner him. I told him that I don't know whether we would get an entry but was ready to play with any partner, be it him or Sanam Singh," Myneni told HT.

Sanam and Myneni won silver at the Asian Games this year and the case for them getting a wildcard together is even more solid keeping in view India's Davis Cup future.

Chidambaram further said that having Leander Paes in the midst would be a further boost.

"It would be great to have Paes also play for us. The last date for doubles entry is not yet over. So we are hoping he starts his campaign at Chennai."

That's a bit far-fetched given that Chidambaram had refused to pay Paes' hotel expenses last year – a paltry sum of Rs. 1,16,000 – and the player had left the event in a huff.

At the time he had told HT: "I don't like the disrespect. I have more than earned the right to be treated with some dignity for my achievements over the years. This is not the way to handle your own players. It's not about the money, it's about respect."

It remains to be seen if he has changed his stance since he is unlikely to get any appearance money elsewhere. Last year he was paid $10,000 by the Chennai organisers for showing up.

Bhupathi was unreachable and there is no clarity on just how far his 'comeback' will go.

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