India's lone ATP event won't be held from next year
The financial burden to stage the ATP 250 event, held in Pune since 2018, is being halted with no big Indian draw currently in singles
In a blow to tennis in India that is already suffering from a lack of spark in singles, the lone ATP 250 event hosted by India for almost a couple of decades will no longer be held in the country.
Although the ATP Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune still finds a mention in the 2024 ATP calendar in its usual January slot, it will almost certainly not return for the next season after the contract between the parties concerned was not renewed. The first edition of the ATP 250 event was held in 1996 in New Delhi before it was moved to Chennai the following year.
The Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA), which took over the season-opening event from Chennai in 2018, had signed a five-year agreement with IMG and RISE worldwide for organising the tournament, which has not been renewed. It is learnt that the financial ask of keeping it in India -- hosting rights, operating costs, prize money, sponsorship, etc. -- had become increasingly stiffer for a tournament that, of late, lacked a local face deep in the singles draw and a pool of big names to pull in crowds and sponsors.
"The contract with IMG and RISE worldwide stands successfully completed, (and) MSLTA has undertaken all its commitments towards (the) successful conduct of the event for 5 years," a joint statement on Friday by tournament director Prashant Sutar and MSLTA secretary Sunder Iyer read.
In the 2023 edition won by Dutchman Tallon Griekspoor, no Indian progressed beyond the first round in singles. But not having the opportunity they got to compete in the main draw, despite not having a high enough ranking to qualify, is what they would be seen as the biggest loss for the home players.
The tournament organisers handed wild cards to three domestic players, including 14-year-old Manas Dhamne. While the Pune boy took home the experience of playing his first ATP level match in an early taster of things to come, Sumit Nagal, India's last singles entrant in a Grand Slam main draw on an injury comeback trail, gave then world No. 54 Filip Krajinovic a three-set fight in the first round and his confidence a boost.
Although there have been multiple Indian doubles winners in the tournament, former top-100 pro Somdev Devvarman was the last Indian to make the final of the home event, in Chennai in 2009.
That was also a time when a number of established players looked at the Indian event as a pitstop in their early season's schedule. From Pat Rafter (1998 champion) to Carlos Moya (2004, 2005) to Ivan Ljubicic (2006) to Rafael Nadal to Stan Wawrinka (four-time champion) and Marin Cilic (2009, 2010), tennis fans in the country had the rare opportunity to watch these stars in action.
Over the last few years, however, the quality of the field also wasn't quite as rich as most top players looked at events in the Middle East or Australia to kickstart their season leading into the year's first Grand Slam.
A silver lining in this though is that the national federation and state associations can now look to bring in more ATP Challenger tournaments. The second-rung ATP events cost a lot lesser to host and it is where most of India's top men's pros -- none of them are in the top 250 -- currently ply.
India has hosted three back-to-back Challengers in Chennai, Bengaluru and Pune so far this year, with Nagal reaching the semis in Chennai before winning a Challenger in Rome. Playing, and winning, more Challenger matches and events is the only way Indian players can climb up the rankings, and having a few more events at home will help.
"We still have a commitment from both the Government of Maharashtra and our sponsors TATA for promoting tennis in Maharashtra and India when we have the right opportunities... which we are pursuing in right earnest currently in the interest of our players and Indian tennis fraternity," Iyer said.