Chennai back on the world tennis map

Published on Sep 11, 2022 10:28 PM IST

A WTA tournament returns to India after a four-year gap in the southern city that was home to a popular ATP event until 2017 that had featured Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya.

File image of Ankita Raina.(File)
File image of Ankita Raina.(File)
By, Mumbai

Five years ago in a WTA tournament in India, the singles trophy was won by Aryna Sabalenka, the Russian currently ranked No 6 in the world who took US Open winner Iga Swiatek to three sets in the semi-final. In that $125,000 event held at the Cricket Club of India courts in Mumbai, India’s Ankita Raina, as wild card, made the quarter-finals to significantly boost her rankings.

After hosting its second edition in 2018, the Mumbai Open wound up. It not only robbed Indian players the luxury of playing—and trying to make a mark—in elite tournaments at home but also deprived the country’s tennis fans the opportunity to watch international pros and potential stars play live.

After four years of drought, a WTA tournament returns to India in a city with a rich tradition in the sport. The WTA 250 Chennai Open begins on Monday, bringing top level tennis back to Chennai after the ATP 250 event—it saw the likes of Rafael Nadal, Pat Rafter, Carlos Moya and Stan Wawrinka touch down—was shifted to Pune from 2018.

The field for this WTA 250 hard court event might not be as rich but it comprises five top-100 singles players. It would have been more star-studded but for the withdrawals of France’s Caroline Garcia, the WTA 1000 Cincinnati champion who reached the US Open semi-finals, and Belgian Elise Mertens, the world No 33 who is injured.

The top seed now is American Alison Riske-Amritraj, who has an Indian connection. The 32-year-old is married to Stephen Amritraj, son of former India Davis Cup player and captain Anand and nephew of Indian legend Vijay, now the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association president. The world No 29 has been on an upswing over the last couple of seasons, winning a title in Linz and reaching the final in Adelaide early this year. At the US Open, she reached the fourth round before losing to an in-form Caroline Garcia.

Among the other notable names are Germany’s Tatjana Maria, 35, the surprise Wimbledon semi-finalist, and Canada's wild card Eugenie Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon finalist whose tennis has fallen off the track since. There's also Astra Sharma, the daughter of a Singaporean Indian father who was born in the city state before her family migrated to Perth.

Indians Ankita and Karman Kaur Thandi have been handed wild cards in singles. The 29-year-old Ankita is still India's top singles player but her ranking has plummeted to 326 from a career-high 160 two years ago. She faces a tough opener in Chennai against the fourth-seeded Maria. The injury-prone Karman is starting to play more frequently on the tour now and was a late entrant in the draw to replace Garcia. She too has an uphill task in her first round on Monday against No 8 seeded Frenchwoman Chloe Paquet.

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