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Tata Open Maharashtra at Pune’s Balewadi Stadium

Fans can expect a’special’ Tata Open Maharashtra at Pune’s Balewadi Stadium, according to Tournament Director Prashant Sutar.
Prasanth discusses the 5th Tata Open Maharashtra, Cilic’s return after 2018, and the event’s significance for Indian players in an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times Digital.
In 2017, the organisers had only 20 days to determine whether or not to keep the event in India. Pune’s Balewadi stadium was refurbished with the support of a business association led by Tata Sons and the Maharashtra government in order to host the tournament the following year. The Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) will host the fifth edition of the TATA Open Maharashtra, South Asia’s only ATP 250 tournament, at the Balewadi Stadium on Saturday. But that isn’t what makes this tournament “unique,” according to Prashant Sutar, Tournament Director of Tata Open Maharashtra and Chairman of MSLTA.
He’s more excited about the return of fans to the stadium, the best-ever player’s field, which includes 2014 US Open champion Marin Cilic in the singles draw and three-time Grand Slam champions Rajeev Ram and Joe Salisbury, as well as two-time winner Rohan Bopanna, in the doubles list, and the change of dates to the original slot in the ATP calendar.
Prasanth discusses the 5th Tata Open Maharashtra, Cilic’s return after 2018, and the event’s significance for Indian players in an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times Digital. Here are several examples…
Q) Due to Covid limitations, fans were not permitted to attend the last event, but they will be permitted to return this time. What is the level of excitement?
This year is quite important since we will be finishing our fifth edition, which means a lot to us. We literally began from scratch. I recall having only 20 days to determine whether or not to keep this event in India, which was back in 2017, when it wasn’t happening in Chennai and we could make it happen in a very short period in Pune. We had Covid limitations last year and managed to pull it off brilliantly, setting an example for all other sports. This year is remarkable for two reasons: first, we have the best-ever player field, and second, it is back before the Australian Open, so players on their way may stop here and participate.
Spectators are now permitted inside the stadium, and we have received a large number of reactions. Many Indian players are present, and we have a teenager from Pune, Manas Dhamne, who has been given a wildcard for the main event.
Q) Does Tata Open have anything special planned to commemorate the completion of five years?
Oh yeah. We’ve reopened the Fan Park for the fans’ enjoyment. Every day, we will host a Vintage Car exhibition especially for Pune enthusiasts.
Q) You discussed retaining the tournament in India in 2017. What are some of the difficulties you’ve encountered in organising the event over the previous five years?
The Maharashtra government and the local municipalities have been entirely supportive. We never suffered financially, but we did battle with visas, which has always been an issue and is now considerably more so with the Covid protocol. This year, the government mandated the use of masks as well as RT-PCR testing for players from Japan and Thailand. Hopefully, the limits will not be expanded further. Aside from that, we never really faced a difficulty.
Q) So, in order to attract elite players, the event has been moved back to its original spot on the ATP schedule, before the Australian Open.
We had actually sought the AITA, stating that last year we did not have a very good player’s field because everyone wants to take a break after the Australian Open and since they have already played 7-8 weeks in and around Australia. As a result, many people prefer not to play here. So we sought the AITA, claiming income and spectator loss, and they accepted and returned us to our former position.
Q) During the Covid period, Indian players struggled, resulting in a dip in the singles ranking. However, the doubles division has seen substantial development, with 9 players ranking in the top 150. What relevance does the TATA Open have for Indian players?
Last year, Ramkumar Ramanathan and Rohan Bopanna won the doubles. He is presently ranked in the top 100. It was very beneficial. This competition has been extremely beneficial to all Indian participants. Saketh and Yuki are both among the top 100. Arjun is about to turn 150. So, while the Indians are doing well in doubles, we are still battling in singles, where there hasn’t been much of an increase recently. The AITA and state organisations must investigate it from a broader perspective.

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