TWUSA exclusive with Tom Annear: From Maharashtra Open unto the Miami Open

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TWUSA exclusive with Tom Annear: From Maharashtra Open unto the Miami Open

Right at the start of the new season, palpable excitement among the Indian tennis fans goes up by quite a few notches as the country hosts its sole tennis tournament, in the ATP World Tour circuit. From 1996 onward, Chennai catered to the widespread tennis followers as it welcomed some of the world’s best – from Boris Becker to Carlos Moya, to Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka.

However, as curtains closed for Chennai as a host city in 2017, there began a new chapter in Pune, Maharashtra which ensured the constancy of India remaining in the global tournaments’ map in the sport. But, even as fans retained their enthusiasm, there was also an aura of scepticism about how Pune would live up to the expectations set by its preceding city which, despite struggling to rope in the stars in its last couple of years, was still loved by them.

Tennis World USA sat down with the then-Chennai Open and now Maharashtra Open tournament director, Tom Annear to discuss the bigger picture surrounding the shift of venues. Not just in India, but also in the US, with the Miami Masters relocating to the Hard Rock Stadium from Key Biscayne.

The following are the excerpts from the conversation:

How difficult was making the transition from Chennai to Pune? Of course, it’s going to be a challenge. You have got a totally different group of organising committee members.

[But], the one consistency is our [IMG’s] presence, not just here on-site, but also prior to. The presence of our operations guy [S. Karthikeyan] who was very much involved in Chennai for many years and who is now involved here too [has meant] there’s a little bit of continuity between Chennai and here.

But, there’s no doubt that the guys [the organising committee] have done an exemplary job in getting this maiden voyage off the ground. The facility is really so unique, and it’s more up-to-date and it is actually larger than Chennai’s, the stadium is much more intimate [and] the crowds are much more knowledgeable.

[But], certainly, there’s things to improve and we have slowly started to put them in action as we are getting comments from the [ATP] Tour.

The weather and climate conditions in Chennai made the playing conditions somewhat similar to the conditions in Australia.

With Pune being relatively colder in January, will the feasibleness for the players get impacted? It’s [the climate in Pune is] much friendlier than Chennai. Partly why we pushed the matches to 5 PM [local time] in Chennai in the last couple of years is because it’s very hot during the day.

We kept to that same match schedule this year in deference to the crowds. The people are working are they won’t come out to watch tennis, so 5 PM is really the right time to do it.

How can the tournament attract more top-ranked players, especially more of those who are ranked inside the top-10? It’s a very competitive week.

It’s got Pune, Doha, Brisbane and Perth. So, you have four major tournaments vying for the top-10 players. It’s always been that way, as long as Chennai has been on the calendar, [so] we have had that kind of scenario.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the players have a sense of commitment to the tournaments that they like to play. We need to [earn them] and earn them back. It’s going to take money, but it’s also going to take reputation and proximity.

We can’t do anything about the proximity, but we certainly can control the money and we now need to control the reputation. If distance is against us, we need to make-up with doing things really well for the players and that’s something we have got an eye on, so we can earn some of these top-10 players, more than just one.

[But], I am not disappointed with the way the draw is [in Pune] given the scenario we have got with the health of these top-10 players and many [others] who are injured.

Is there a way for India to have more than one ATP Tour tournament in the season? Being the first event of the calendar is great but you are not immediately following because they [the players] are all heading Down Under in preparation for the Australian Open.

So, you are talking about adding an ATP event in India’s calendar or the ATP calendar for India. And that would have probably be in the fall [September or October]. There isn’t much room [now]. My understanding is ATP has said no more events in the Asian region.

This is very much the Asian region. What they [the ATP] generally do is if they need to move events within one region, they can’t add one at the expense of another region. So, unfortunately we are kind of fixed for the ATP.

But, I believe there is an opportunity for a WTA event to come into this region.

Lastly, on the shift of the Miami Open venue from Crandon Park, Key Biscayne to the Hard Rock Stadium? The future is 2019. Plans for that is going to be audacious.

There are plans to have 29 fixed courts on the outside, on the parking lots. Each year, the stadium court will need to be rebuilt inside the Hard Rock Stadium. That’s going to be a major issue and task, but we are confident to be able to get that done.

We are hoping that this will turn the tide because we have grown out of being on Key Biscayne. There’s simply no room there to do all the things we want to do. Now that we will be moving to Hard Rock, there’s three times the gym size, the lounge and dining areas are two-three times larger, the hospitality is the best in class scenario that we are going to be very eager to show to our partners.