Chennai Open's 21-year run in the capital of Tamil Nadu came to an end on Wednesday, when IMG-Reliance, the main organisers of India's only tournament, ended their contract with the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA).
This news came as a shock as the Tamil Nadu government has always been supportive of the ATP 250 tennis event, and in 2013 had signed a three-year extension for the hosting rights.
According to reports, TNTA was unable to meet the commercial demands of IMG, who are the owners of the event.
In a statement, TNTA said that they received an e-mail from IMG-R cancelling the contract to conduct the event in 2018 and 2019. The Hindu reported that the TNTA could take legal action against the organisers after consulting its legal counsel.
After the completion of Chennai Open 2017, the TNTA had informed IMG-R that Aircel would no longer be the title sponsor for the ATP tournament.
“The TNTA had told IMGR that they should find a title sponsor for Chennai Open 2018 and TNTA would raise the balance funds with the help of the Tamil Nadu government and other local sponsors, and would live up to its obligations under the contract to conduct Chennai Open till 2019,” TNTA had said in a statement that they released in January.
IMG initially wanted to take the ATP 250 tournament abroad, but then received offers from the state associations of Karnataka, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Eventually, the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) won the bid as the state government also passed a resolution to support the event.
The tournament has been rebranded as Maharashtra Open and will be held at the Balewadi Sports Complex till 2022. This venue features one central hard court and four competition courts, with six warm-up courts. The centre court has a seating capacity of 4200 people. The tennis courts had previously hosted the Commonwealth Youth Games in 2008, India’s Asia-Oceania Group 1 Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in February, and a $50,000 ATP Challenger event for the past three years.
MSLTA's secretary Sunder Iyer and Tournament director Prashant Sutar were quite happy at the prospect of hosting the ATP tournament.
"We have the best tennis infrastructure in the country. We will strive our best to make the world's best players and our own, feel at home," they said in a statement.
However, one of the main advantages that the SDAT Tennis Stadium in Chennai had was that the hard courts were made out of the same plexicushion surface that is also present at the Australian Open. Players considered Chennai Open as an apt warm-up event ahead of the first Grand Slam of the season as it provided similar court and weather conditions.
However, the MSLTA is determined that they can replicate those conditions in Pune as well.
“All seven courts will be relaid, and we will be using the same synthetic material that is used to make the courts for the Australian Open,” Iyer said according to a report in the Indian Express.
After the inaugural event was held in New Delhi, the Chennai Open was home to some of the best tennis in the country and had hosted top players like Rafael Nadal, Marin Cilic, Stan Wawrinka, Carlos Moya, Pat Rafter, and Boris Becker in its 21-year history.
This was the tournament where Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi first forged a partnership back in 1997 and would then go on to rule the world as a doubles team. This tournament was also where local players Somdev Devvarman, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan burst on to the international scene with impressive performances.
However, this isn't the first case of a tennis tournament running out of funds in India. The Delhi Open, an ATP Challenger event usually held in February, was not held this year after the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association failed to raise enough funds through sponsorship for the $50,000 event.
The All India Tennis Association (AITA) had sought financial support from the government but the sports ministry said that it was the AITA's responsibility to raise funds and organise tournaments.
Who said what:
The tournament held special significance for the player as well as fans, but most of them were relieved that the tournament continues to stay in India.
"It's sad that it's not in Chennai anymore. It is what it is. But I am excited to play in Pune as always. India has one tournament a year which I consider a home event so I'm happy that it's still in our country. It would be nice to see more such level events in India through the year to help us all go higher in the rankings because playing at home is a big advantage. Of course this would only be possible if the AITA has any intent of creating a better system of tournament for the players."
— Nedunchezhiyan, who won the doubles title with Rohan Bopanna in 2017, told PTI.
"It was my first ATP tour event in my career and my home event as well. Of course it's a big disappointment that the tournament has been taken away from Chennai. It has been there for 21 years. Pune is a nice city too. I loved playing there but it had become a tradition to have the ATP event in Chennai. I guess if there was another city which I would've loved to play, it would be Pune because of the tennis loving people and the crowd Pune can gather for tennis events. Hope it stays like that."
— Indian doubles player N Sriram Balaji
“We had a long run but you have to understand that these tournaments run on commercial basis, and so the people have decided to move for purely commercial reasons. We weren’t able to get a sponsor on board after Aircel left. Sponsorship was the main source of revenue for us. Government was supportive but we simply didn’t have the resources."
— Chennai Open chairman and Tamil Nadu Tennis Association Vice President Karti Chidambram told CNN News18.
“It is shocking to know that the venue of ATP Tennis Tournament in South Asia ‘Chennai Open’ has now been shifted to Pune. This premier event was hosted by the city of Chennai in Nungambakkam SDAT Stadium for past 21 years and the exemplary conduct of this event brought laurels to the city not only by patrons and tennis fans in Chennai but also across the globe. It is an unfair step by IMG to break this long standing association, thereby disappointing countless fans as well as tennis players of Tamil Nadu. With IMG stating that it is commercial interests which led to the shifting of the venue, the silence and inaction of Tamil Nadu Government in this issue is condemnable."
— DMK working president MK Stalin said in a statement, as reported by The Hindu.
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Updated Date: Jul 21, 2017 19:11:33 IST