Following is the print version of an interview of Prashant Sutar, the tournament director of Tata Open Maharashtra 2022 conducted by M. Balachandran (Balu sir). The original video interview can be found here.
Q: You joined MSLTA in 2014 right now as a council member and now you’re the Vice President. How did you come into Tennis Administration? What prompted you.
Prashant Sutar: It’s a long story, I used to play tennis, I was also a tennis coach till 2002. And when I was in Sangli, I had an academy in Pune, near the south of Pune 200 kilometres away. So, there I organised the first state-level tournament with the help of the district authorities which was around 1998 or 97. And from there, I started having connections with MSLTA. I also did a lot of coaching camps for MSLTA and this is how I started connecting with MSLTA in those days. Of course, Sunder Iyer introduced me to MSLTA right from 1996-97. So, this is how I started connecting with MSLTA in those days, of course, I also used to be the umpiring linesman and other After 2002 I stopped active coaching. Before that, I was engaged with tennis. So, this is how I started getting into MSLT as a contributor.
Q: Can you talk about Maharashtra Tennis Foundation. How did the whole Idea come out and how does it transpire?
Prashant Sutar: Yeah, during that 2003 to 2008, I was struggling to get my business, So I was not in touch with tennis, practically not in touch with any of the tennis activities or tennis players. But then, in 2010. I started coming back again, doing a lot of work with the Tennis Association. And that’s why first we did, the Tribal Academy, we initiated that tribal one of the flagship projects of my MSLTA and the Government of Maharashtra tribal department where we trained tribal local players, tribal locals to become tennis coaches, linesman officiating, and few of them are really got done well, they have now worked as a coach, someone is working as a linesman. So that I was a part of that initiative. And then also, we did this Davis Cup after 40 years in Pune. I was also part of that initiative with Sunder, Bharat ji and the MSLTA team, and then, in 2014 I became the council member and then probably in 2018 I became the vice president. So, during that period, MSLT is always active with doing a lot of tournaments, we have always been doing a lot of activities across the state to many tournaments, international tournaments, local tournaments, we sponsor people. So, with the MSLTA team, once I and Sunder were discussing doing some concrete things, much bigger events in Maharashtra and luckily this Chennai Open came. The Chennai Open was in a transition phase. So, we discussed internally there is an issue going on with the Chennai open and that might go out of India, why can’t we just think of retaining it in India and in Pune or in Maharashtra. So, the MSLTA team has always been positive, they said why not we’ll just give it a try and then we approached the Government of Maharashtra and we just had less than a month to decide whether to yes or no, we just, grab that opportunity and then rest is history like this is the fourth year. So, during that ATP event, we decided that just doing an ATP tournament of this magnitude is not going to be of help so we should also have a parallel activity of promoting tennis across the state. So, reaching out to the rural areas, having more tennis players at the district level should be, participate in the tennis tournament or in the tennis academies. So we started this Maha Tennis Foundation is a joint venture between Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association and the Government of Maharashtra, where we have authorities from the government of Maharashtra members chairman. MSLTA Secretary and President also, he’s a member of the Maha Tennis foundation. So, whatever we gather out of this tournament, will be spent for the development of tennis across the state along with MSLTA we might, you know, start a high-performance Tennis Academy, we are already sponsoring players from districts, we are supporting them. So, we also started an Academy in Pune, where more than 150 players are playing. If anybody cannot afford tennis, we are there, we give them free tennis rackets. There is no need to pay, provided they are good, and they really want to do something. So, this is about the Maha Tennis foundation, we have a lot of other goals in the coming two years to expand the Maha Tennis Foundation.
Q: In the four years or five years of foundation, I mean, any achievements would you like to highlight?
Prashant Sutar: Yes, now we have an Indian number 2, I think with Under 12. We had Indian number 1 under 14. Now we have Indian number 2 or 3. So we have a couple of good players. But as I said, there are a lot of academies, there are a lot of coaches across India. So our aim is not only to produce highly competitive players but to reach out to the entire state and start promoting juniors, youngsters to start playing tennis. Because we need to increase the footfall across the state. Once we have players playing like in numbers, the results we start getting in, then probably will get them to Pune, we will send them to good coaches and will pay them for their fees. And also, this is the structure of what we are trying to build.
Q: You Mentioned About Davis Cup happening in Pune after 40 years. Tell us something about your experience? How was the experience of doing an event of that calibre?
Prashant Sutar: Yes. That was the first big event I was involved in. Sundar is experienced enough to have such a big event. And he did make it like a really professional event. The draw ceremony or the players welcome, the players’ party, the entire stadium was packed.
Q: After the Davis Cup experience you did WTA and then Tata Open. An ATP or WTA event comes with different types of Challenges, So tell us something about that?
Prashant Sutar: Yeah, we did three years of WTA events in Mumbai, it was called L&T. L&T was the title sponsor. And due to COVID, it has stopped but very soon we’re gonna start with it again. So WTA relatively is much easier than ATP because the regulation of WTA and ATP is different. So it is at a much smaller level. But again, we were praised by the WTA that this would have been one of the best tournaments organized, wherever the tournament happened. So we also did that in a style, in a particular manner. We did the J1 Asian Junior Championship just last month, which was sponsored by my company. And we are going to continue that also.
Q: You mentioned your company sponsoring the Asian JB 1 event. So are there any plans to sponsor more such events or you’re going to diversify and do it in different age groups?
Prashant Sutar: No, see what I’m planning is under our CSR activity, we are going to sponsor players like we are already supporting Arjun, we are already supporting another guy under 18 national champion, we are supporting him, there is one girl from Solapur we are supporting. So, we want to stick to tennis and the tennis-related activities under our CSR activities and also do a few tournaments whenever there is a shortfall for any funds. We will step in and support the local authorities or the local clubs to take this initiative. They should not stall because of a lack of financial support. So whenever there is a problem Aryan Pumps will come in and support them.
Q: What do you think your strengths are especially when you are organizing tournaments of great magnitude?
Prashant Sutar: I’m lucky and fortunate enough to have a solid team in our State Association as well as in Maha Tennis foundation. Like, if I talk about Maha Tennis foundation, we have strong support from my two friends Sanjay Khandare and Pravin Darade. They both are tennis fanatics. So they are supporting both initiatives. Then in the foundation, of course, MSLTA Sundar Iyer, Bharat Oza the MSLTA team is absolutely magnificent when it comes to promotion. And then Foundation, we have Abhishek Tamade, who is our treasurer. So, he does fantastic jobs. He’s doing a lot of events in Pune; he’s also Secretary of PMDTA. So, Sundar and the team look after the execution, Abhishek looks after the execution. Personally, if you ask me, I try to put my views my vision, what has to be done? What should we do? And then also, I try to get the resources because I always say if there is a good initiative it will definitely be supported by various stakeholders. So, normally I put my visions, education agencies and of course the system and then I am also good at getting resources together. It’s a good combination.
Q: You grew up in Sangli. Those days you are travelling playing tournaments. And now your son plays tournaments. So when you look at his travel and now the way he goes about how do you relate to what you went through?
Prashant Sutar: Well, it cannot be compared with the way we used to travel and these people travel is a completely different scenario, they have the certain set mindset, and, we used to travel in train for whatever second class, third class or first class never used to bother. But nowadays, I always tell them, what the situation where we used to play and the situation where you are in their generation, not him. In fact, the next generation is completely different. So sometimes, we’ll have to tell him the difference between his time and our time.
Q: Having grown up in Kirloskarwadi is that a reason why you have this passion towards contributing to tennis now, now that you’re in a position to do so?
Prashant Sutar: Yes, absolutely. if you see any sport, hardly players from the big cities have come, everyone has come from the rural areas, you take it any sports, you take any tennis players, cricket, basketball, or tennis or hockey, they all come from rural areas because they don’t have any other activity rather than focusing on their goals, their strength level is different. So I believe that if we grow into the other areas, then the metro cities more, we will definitely get more talent and more results. And, we can aim for at least 10 years down the line, getting a medal in Olympics. So I strongly believe that we should spend our legs across the state and not only stick to the cities.
Q: One Last Question: You mentioned about bringing in children from outside and you’re interested in you know, spreading pan India your activities. So, now, you are in MLTA. So, do you have any plans to be part of AITA in the near future?
Prashant Sutar: Definitely, if anything to do with sports, anything to promote tennis, and if there is any requirement, I will be happy to come in and support the All India Tennis Association in various ways. I’m happy to help AITA at any given point in time.
Tata Open Maharashtra, South Asia’s only ATP Tour tournament, owned by IMG and operated by RISE Worldwide in India, is all set to make its much-anticipated return at Pune’s Balewadi Stadium with its 4th edition, scheduled from January 31 to February 6.