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CHENNAI: One thing mentioned ad nauseum at this year’s Chennai Open is that it has completed two decades on Tour. There’s no doubt about the worth of the
achievement, but the advancement in years has actually featured fewer Grand Slam winners progressively.
Some of the stars to have competed here include Boris Becker, Pat Rafter, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Carlos Moya and Rafael Nadal. In fact, crowd favourite Moya was
the last one to show up, back in 2010. Luckily, Stan Wawrinka won the Australian Open last year to give this year’s edition some Major heft.
Even so, this occurrence must be causing worry since smaller stars rarely pull in big crowds. Or is that just what we assume? Tournament Director Tom Annear
disagrees politely. He feels proud of the field, as it features senior players and upcoming youngsters. Obviously, Wawrinka remains the golden goose. “We
have Stan, the defending champion here and in Australia. It’s the first time in a long time that we’ve got a Grand Hypervenom Phantom FG Slam champion in our ranks. He has very
good karma here and I’d like to think he’ll come back for a couple of years,” Annear says.
Then he puts forth a list of the good players the event has signed. Despite the absence of other top ten players, this year’s contenders — from Feliciano
Lopez to Borna Coric — are all quite promising to an unbiased eye. It’s just that every city wants the big boys to visit, something that isn’t feasible.
“Lopez is here for the first time, and we hope he has a positive experience that’ll make him return. Roberto Bautista Agut is the ATP Most Improved Player
and jumped 60 spots last year. David Goffin is the ATP Comeback Player of the Year. The 18-year-old Borna Coric is the youngest player in the top 100.”
According to Annear, given the competitive landscape — tournaments in Doha, Brisbane and even the Hopman Cup vie for the same universe of players — the
Chennai Open has done pretty well. He also concedes they don’t possess the funds to get any of the top three stars. “We cannot compete with Tennis
Australia who owns the Brisbane tourney or the Doha event that is hosted by the UAE. We get one, or maybe two a year and we’re happy with that. We can’t
match the appearance fees of a Hypervenom Phantom Federer, Nadal or Djokovic, but for other players in the top 10, we compete tooth and nail,” Annear declares.
Another ‘problem’ has been the empty stands on the first three days. However, along with Annear, even Davis Cup captain Anand Amritraj says it’s a regular
affair for very tournament. “The first few days always feature empty stands no matter where one goes. The general notion is that the best matches take place
Friday onwards, which is quite unfortunate,” Amritraj adds.
To make a difference the think tank took an initiative and came up with the trophy tour last month. They took it to malls, colleges, universities and were
well received. The management also improved the presentation on site. “It shows our commitment to upgrading the fan experience,” Annear says.
Would this translate into ticket sales? They’ll have to wait and watch!
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