Sunder Iyer on the return and significance of the Tata Open Maharashtra



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Sunder Iyer on the return and significance of the Tata Open Maharashtra

In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the 2022 tennis season came to an end. And just as quickly, the 2023 season’s started. On the 29th December, the United Cup kicked off the tennis calendar with much fanfare across the cities of Brisbane, Perth and Sydney.

In Pune, India, meanwhile, the Tata Open Maharashtra’s campaign also began with qualifying action getting underway. This year, the tournament will be played in what had been its usual place in the ATP Tour’s itinerary – i.e., before the Australian Open.

In the last couple of years, in 2020 and 2022, the event had moved to the first week of February, right after the conclusion of the first Major of the year, Down Under. This return has added to the upbeat mood around the tournament and especially for its organisers.

“It’s great to have the tournament back to the (original) scheduled week and back to where it started,” shared Sunder Iyer, Secretary of the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA), which conducts the tournament.

At the same time, Mr. Iyer’s also not unaware of the other factors that contributed towards this rescheduling. “This is also because of the change of schedule in Australia. It’s really helped the cause (of the tournament),” he mentioned, alluding to the fact that the United Cup (a men’s and women’s combined tournament) replaced the still-nascent ATP Cup.

According to Mr. Iyer though, the event’s organisers back home in India got to know of the change only around a couple of months ago and while they had to rush with the preparation, they were still up for the challenge and put out a great tournament.

Nonetheless, despite the best efforts of the organisers to cross all Ts and dot all Is, there are certain occurrences that emerge and which seem to be beyond their control. In the case of the Pune Open, a week before its scheduled start, there was a brief scare regarding the flaring up of Covid-19 cases.

“(Thankfully), it’s just one week away and we can’t make any changes. It’s (still) like a little more work,” Mr. Iyer acknowledged. The unpredictability of the situation notwithstanding, there’s still been a silver lining to the dark clouds greeting the event for the last two years.

Tata Open Maharashtra's fight for survival in the new normal

In 2021, the ATP Pune was cancelled to the surge of the pandemic. On the other hand, in 2022 it was held amid heightened restrictions one of which was the lack of on-site spectators and fans.

And this year, this is the biggest reason to cheer for the tournament’s return to the country, according to Mr. Iyer. “These are all tough times,” he said. “But, at least, we can have a ticketed event. We’re happy that it’s a public event and that was the one thing we missed last year”.

The return of the crowd and the return of the players themselves then makes for a return to quite an important subject of that of what’s next for the tournament and its legacy for tennis in India across the years it’s been around.

On the subject, Mr. Iyer mentioned, “We’re trying hard to keep the event in India. (But) it’s too early to say. (So), our focus is to hold the tournament well (this year) before we talk about next year. (We’re looking) match-by-match instead of looking at the title”.

Likewise, the takeaway of the Tata Open Maharashtra – India’s lone ATP Main Tour event – goes beyond its mere continuity in the country for Mr. Iyer. To his mind, the tournament’s presence has gone to build a viable “ecosystem” of the sport in the country.

“(A) correct ecosystem’s being created which is good for Indian tennis,” he said, while continuing, “This ecosystem’s got to continue. So, this is the right way to look at it. We’re all happy about the event and how it’s gone (through the years).

(But the biggest) impact the event’s created (has been) on the tennis ecosystem in the country”.