Bengaluru, January 25: The Tata Open Maharashtra is all set to return after a year's break with an action-packed fourth edition, scheduled to take place at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune from January 31 to February 6.
Tata Open Maharashtra was forced into postponement last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and this year, Aslan Karatsev and defending champion Jiri Vesely will be vying for the singles title alongside seven other Top-100 players as South Asia's only ATP Tour tournament.
With a stiff cut off at 149, the country's premier ATP 250 event will also witness some of the experienced names as well as promising young guns from the tennis world.
India's Yuki Bhambri will also kickstart his campaign in the main draw with a protected ranking. Apart from singles, the doubles competition will see India's Rohan Bopanna and Ramkumar Ramanathan also receive a direct entry into the doubles main draw.
Ahead of the Tata Open Maharashtra 2022, the Tournament Director Prashant Sutar responded to some interesting questions from myKhel. Here is the Q&A:
1. Tata Open Maharashtra returning after a year's break, your thoughts on getting the tournament back after tough one year?
A. It was tough year not just for tennis and other sports but for everyone. Just like everyone else, tennis players also suffered during the pandemic-first due to lockdown and then because of travel restrictions as only few could travel and train, rest were stuck at home.
Last year this tournament couldn't happen but we are delighted that it's back again. Tata Open Maharashtra is flagship tournament of Government of Maharashtra and Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA).
Though we conducted few ITF event earlier, this is big tournament with top players playing, so certainly it's great feeling that it's happening this year and we are grateful to all the stakeholders who have kept the faith going including our sponsors.
2. Can you tell us about the challenges and efforts that were put in to make this event happen this year?
A. The world is currently living in a 'new normal' and it has its own challenges. Organising a tournament of this stature is itself challenging. Earlier situation was better when the dates were announced but then recently Omicron disrupted everything once again and we had to relook at the plans.
We have very less time to get everything done, actually to be precise just about 10 days to get going everything. We are fortunate enough to have support from the Government, MSLTA and our sponsor Tata Motors to put everything in place.
I would also like to mention contribution of Mr Sanjay Khandare, who is a senior bureaucrat and Treasurer and Mr Pravin Darade, Organising Secretary for Tournament. They helped us in every possible way to procure government permissions and visas from MEA.
And credit also goes to MSLTA team under strong leadership of Bharat Oza and Sunder Iyer, we have been able to tackle these last-minute demands of making the stadium tournament ready for international play and also make this tournament possible when most of the sports events in India haven't taken off or have got cancelled last minute due to pandemic.
3. Though the tournament is coming back, it won't be the same as the earlier editions due to COVID-19 Pandemic. How challenging do you think hosting it this time compared to previous editions?
A. It will be a challenging this time compared to other editions as we have added responsibility this year. There are set of protocols set in terms of safety of the players and others involved. We will not compromise on that and will be strictly following them.
Though COVID-19 challenges are there but I'm happy that on court action will not be different. We have the World No. 15 (Aslan Karatsev) along with 7 top players from the Top 100. It will be a great week of tennis in presence of top names from the tennis world.
4. Historically this tournament has witnessed participation of top players. This year too, top players are taking part in it. Your thoughts?
A. Yes this is a prestigious tournament and have seen world class players playing and fighting for the titles year on year. This year, despite the challenges, we have still got a strong field. Aslan Karatsev is there, young sensation Lorenzo Musetti is there, defending champion Jiri Vesely also playing alongside other top names.
Among the Indian players, Yuki Bhambri in singles and Rohan Bopanna and Ramkumar Ramanathan in doubles. They have been handed a direct cut in the Main Draw despite a strong line-up of international players. The tournament which is in its 4th year in Pune has been of interest of many players who are keen to come and play here in India.
5. Fans are very passionate about this tournament. But we have heard that they won't be watching players from the stands this time. Is it true and how do you plan to compensate? Your thoughts?
A. Fans are integral part of this tournament, they make it even more special. Pune has a rich history of tennis and it's also known as capital of tennis in India. This city has passionate tennis fans who come in numbers to watch and support players during the tournament.
Unfortunately, current situation doesn't permit us to take chances and have them in the stands but we are hoping for situation to get better and in that case we will explore possibilities of having them in the stands over the weekend but nothing is confirmed yet.
6. Players across sports disciplines have been complaining about how bio-secure bubbles have impacted their performance. Are we going to witness something during the tournament?
A. Tennis tournaments don't happen for a longer duration, they end in a week. Yes bio-bubbles are understandably difficult for players when tournaments are played for longer durations.
However Tata Open Maharashtra will not be played in a bio bubble but the players, officials and everyone related to the tournament will be having very restricted movements with no contact with outsiders. We will be carrying out tests too to keep things in check.