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Following speculation about the future of the Chennai Open, India’s only ATP 250 level event, the Maharashtra government confirmed on Wednesday that the premier tournament will henceforth be conducted in Pune. “It is confirmed that the Chennai Open will now happen in Pune at the Balewadi Sports Complex,” said Rajendra Pawar, deputy secretary of School Education and Sports, Government of Maharashtra.
The development brings an end to the 21-year association the tournament has had with the SDAT Tennis Stadium in Chennai. Incidentally, this will be the third time the tournament has shifted venue after the inaugural edition was held in New Delhi in 1996.
Over the last few years, the Chennai Open has been struggling to generate sizable financial returns, and speculation had steadily intensified about the staging of the event that has seen the likes of Grand Slam champions Rafael Nadal, Carlos Moya, Marin Cilic and Stan Wawrinka compete.
Though tournament owners IMG are yet to confirm the move, they were said to be scouting for a new venue, with Singapore, Bangalore and Gujarat being among those considered. The Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA), meanwhile, presented a strong case for Pune, which was the venue for India’s Round One zonal Davis Cup tie against New Zealand in February. At the same time, the Maharashtra government passed a resolution to support the hosting of the ATP event.
“After the success of the Davis Cup tie, the state government was very interested in organising another big event,” said MSLTA honorary secretary Sunder Iyer. “So when the idea of bidding for an ATP tournament came up, the government promised its support.”The ATP, in turn, is yet to approve of the change in venue. “Any agreement regarding a relocation of an ATP tournament requires approval by the ATP Board,” an ATP official told The Indian Express.
Next stop, Balewadi
In terms of the infrastructure, the Balewadi Sports Complex has organised $50,000 ATP Challenger events for the past three years. As a result, the venue fits in the ATP global list.India hosting the premier tournament has worked well for home players. Former doubles world no 1 Leander Paes is a record six-time winner – five titles coming with Mahesh Bhupathi. In the 2017 edition, current French Open mixed doubles champion Rohan Bopanna paired up with local lad Jeeven Nedunchezhiyan. On the singles front too, the tournament has been a key platform, with Somdev Devvarman reaching the final in 2009.
Current India no 1 Ramkumar Ramanathan, ranked 168, too made his mark at the tournament, upsetting Devvarman in the opening round of the 2014 edition.“One of the reasons behind the bid was to also make sure the tournament stays in India, otherwise it would be very difficult to bring it back,” Iyer said.As it stands, the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA), which had been in collaboration with IMG to host the Chennai Open, is expected to make an official announcement on Thursday.
The Chennai Open, held in the first week of January as the season-opener, was long used as a stop-over for international players making their way to Australia for the year’s first Grand Slam in Melbourne.