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‘India needs at least 10 weeks of Challengers’: Bengaluru Open tournament director Sunil Yajaman

In the absence of an ATP tournament in India, with Tata Open Maharashtra getting halted six months after its 2023 edition, Bengaluru Open tournament director and Joint Secretary of KSLTA (Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association) Sunil Yajaman has called for at least 10 weeks of Challenger events in the country to support the home players. India’s current presence in the ATP Challenger Tour calendar sums up for just four weeks with tournaments in Chennai, which ended on Sunday, Bengaluru, which begins on Monday, Pune and New Delhi. Yajaman wants other cities to step up and take the role of hosting a Challenger event.

Sunil Yajaman, Tournament Director of Bengaluru Open and Joint Secretary of KSLTA

Speaking to Hindustan Times ahead of the start of the 2024 Bengaluru Open Challengers event, which will feature the likes of newly-crowned Chennai Open winner Sumit Nagal, fresh from India’s Davis Cup win against Pakistan, Ramkumar Ramanathan and former top 30 player Vasek Pospisil, Yajaman also talked about the increased number of Indian participants as part of the player field and the tournament’s plan to celebrate Australian Open men’s doubles champion Rohan Bopanna. Here are excerpts…

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Q) What are your thoughts on the player field, which has a lot of promising Indian players, including Sumit Nagal?

With Sumit having done so well in the Australian Open and that he’s all set to get into the top 100; I feel these tournaments in Chennai, Bangalore and Pune will help him attain a higher ranking.

I think it’s an exciting time because we have nearly six players in the top 100 in doubles and most of them are playing here. Besides Sumit, we also have all the Indian Davis Cup players, except Yuki (Bhambri), who recently beat Pakistan in Pakistan. The ultimate satisfaction for us as an organiser is to have a tournament like this and the Indians get the maximum benefit from this event. Apart from that, we also have a wonderful field of players, comprising Chennai Open finalist Luca Nardi, Benjamin Bonzi, former top 30 player in Vasek Pospisil, and a few others.

Q) Could you talk about the importance of handing a wild card to a local boy like Prajwal Dev. How hopeful you are of him making the most of the opportunity

It’s all about giving them an opportunity. I really don’t want to put any expectations or pressure. There is this stage and we give him an opportunity to come out and play. Let’s see how he does. And it was good that he qualified in the Chennai, came through the qualifying and played the main draw and he was the only Indian to qualify in the Chennai main draw. So I think let him do his best, let him have fun.

Q) With India not having an ATP tournament now, do you feel there should be at least more Challenger events in India. Last year, a tournament in Nagpur was in the pipeline, but it never panned out.

Absolutely. I think India needs at least about ten weeks of Challengers. This year we have Delhi staging a Challenger, after Pune. So that makes it four weeks of Challengers this year. If more states could come forward and have another four or six weeks, I think that would be great for Indian tennis.

Q) Is there anything different you are expecting from the 2024 edition of Bengaluru Open?

I think it’s going to be a great event. It’s going to be a treat for Bengaluru and I’m sure they’ll come and watch some amazing tennis because the field is no less than an ATP tour event, and a lot of these players will also be preparing themselves for the upcoming Doha Open and Dubai ATP 500 event. So I think the expectation is that we would love the city to celebrate this event, come out in large numbers and watch these players play and create a buzz around the sport because this is how we can promote and develop the sport in the country. And I also hope that Indian players go deep and do well in the event.

Q) Any plans for Bengaluru boy Rohan Bopanna?

We are having a felicitation program for him today. Since arriving in Bengaluru, he’s been a busy man. We are coinciding the felicitation with the tournament. It will be on behalf of the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association and we will celebrate Rohan. He’s been our boy, he’s been our kid ever, having started playing in U-10 tournaments here. He has just shown that with determination, commitment, hard work and perseverance, you can achieve anything. He is making India proud across the world.

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