One prominent name will be missing when the draw is made at the Chennai Open on Saturday. India’s leading tennis player Leander Paes has opted to begin his year in Australia.
Paes and his partner Lukas Dlouhy will instead be seen at the Brisbane International. Paes says this is part of the build up towards the season’s first Grand Slam. “The Australian Open is the only big one that I have never won. This year, I want to go early and get used to the conditions,” says Paes.
While Paes would certainly be hungry for that elusive trophy, he could not have walked away from India’s only ATP event unless there was more to the issue.
In the past when India’s two tennis giants — Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi — have chosen to skip Chennai, the issue has always revolved around appearance money. Last year, the tournament had given Paes’s partner Dlouhy a wild card in the singles along with an appearance figure that was $30,000 (Rs 13.96 lakh) plus.
“In the past too there have been periods that he has not played in Chennai. I had extended him a personal invitation and am disappointed he is not coming as we would have liked to have the cream of Indian tennis here,” says Karti Chidambaram, chairman organising committee. He does not elaborate on the appearance money factor.
However, in Paes’ defence, it is unlikely that he is getting more money to play in Australia. Had he opted for Doha - the tournament that gave him in the vicinity of $40,000 (Rs 18.61 lakh) just after the 2006 Asian Games - the choice of missing Chennai would have logically been on account of appearance fee.
With two Grand Slam titles last year, Paes and his partner may well be the team to watch out this time. In any case, he stays top-draw in India. That is evident from the fact that even though the organisers learnt Paes wouldn’t be coming over three weeks ago, they have not removed his image from the promotional ads.