The Chennai Open faces dwindling crowd response. Throughout the week, and more crucially even on Saturday, the stands refused to fill up. What was surprising was that even on the day there were two Indians playing singles — Yuki Bhambri and Ramkumar Ramanathan — Chennai refused to flock to the stadium.
Even Bhambri’s quarterfinal match saw muted crowd response.
Amidst all this crowd apathy, the two top draws from the crowd’s point of view — Leander Paes and Somdev Devvarman — left the event in a huff. Loud voices in the hotel foyer alerted this writer to the fact that Paes was forced to miss his flight to Sydney on Friday as there was confusion over just who would foot the bill for his rooms.
The amount was paltry — a mere Rs1,16,000 — but the Indian tennis legend was convinced that he had been verbally assured that the expense would be borne by the organisers.
‘Not about the money’
In his defence, Tamil Nadu Tennis Association vice-president Karti Chidambaram said that the contract with Paes only promised him $10,000 (about R6.2 lakh) in appearance fee and this was inclusive of the rooms. Paes had no documentation to prove otherwise but felt pained at what he perceived as a slight. The player left convinced that he won’t be returning to Chennai again if Chidambaram was involved in running things.
"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," Paes fumed. "It’s not about the money, it’s about respect."
The fact that his appearance amount has also been reduced (from Rs10 lakh last year) and that he has been clubbed with the Indian players with his consistent top-10 doubles standing being ignored, is also a sore point for the man who was paid as much as $60,000 (Rs37 lakh plus at current exchange rate) at one time just to show up in Chennai.
Then, India’s No 1 player Somdev Devvarman was peeved at being denied a doubles wild card. He exchanged hot words with Chidambaram and uncharitable things were said.
Devvarman was paid Rs8 lakh in appearance money and that’s a sum he is unlikely to command at any other event. In the past though our players like Sania Mirza and Paes have commanded sizable sums also for playing in West Asia.
But Devvarman’s relationship with the main man behind the present tournament — Chidambaram — has plummeted to new depths. He too left in a huff after his shock loss to qualifier Ramkumar Ramanathan. Of course, in the organising committee’s defence, the doubles wildcard went to Sriram Balaji and Ramanathan — both upcoming players from Tamil Nadu.
The stadium was quite packed on Sunday with world No 8 Stanislas Wawrinka displaying his prowess. As such, the organisers may well look beyond Indian star players and focus on trying to rope in bigger international names to draw in the crowds.