Excerpts from a Press Conference conducted on 6th January, 2023 at the Tata Open Maharashtra ATP 250 tournament. Addressed by Mr. Prashant Sutar, Tournament Director of Tata Open Maharashtra and Chairman of MSLTA & Mr. Sunder Iyer, Joint Secretary of All India Tennis Association and Secretary of MSLTA.
Question: Where does the tournament stand in terms of renewing the contract?
Prashant Sutar: We are committed to bringing big tournaments in Maharashtra, with the help of the government. We are a strong contender to take this forward for the next 5 years. We have already got commitment from the honorable Deputy CM. But we need to go back to the DCM with a broader picture. We also had an internal discussion with concerned heads and we will go all out. We will also need to see if Reliance and IMG are on the same page.
Question: Wildcard Indians like Manas get an opportunity to play at a high level. From a tournament perspective, how relevant and important is it for the Indian players to play here at this level?
Prashant Sutar: It is a process. Lots of countries host Masters, but how many players from their own countries are at the top? It is a process. But people who have played here are almost at the top in doubles. But unfortunately in singles they haven’t been able to take the home crowd support and go forward. But the quality of players is improving.
On conducting other such word class events in Maharashtra
Prashant Sutar: We are not just left with this ATP, we have done a lot around this. Right now, we have the players from the districts who are already at the top, in the national rankings. We are expanding on districts, trying to sponsor players.The savings that we have made from this ATP event have been utilized in developing the infrastructure. All of these are taking shape because of this ATP 250 tournament otherwise it would have taken way more time had it happened on its own.
Sunder Iyer: We were looking at hosting the women’s Challengers event in Nagpur, but unfortunately we couldn’t do it because the measurements of the court didn’t fit. But we easily decided that we will redo the courts. So we can make faster decisions based on the work done at Tata Open.
Prashant Sutar: There is a momentum now about conducting such tournaments in India now that wasn’t there before. The tempo is such that now Bangalore, Chennai and Pune have Challengers. In the end it will be beneficial for India.
On incentivizing more people to watch such tournaments live
Sunder Iyer: Well, this time we came up with the fan park, next year we will bring about a kids park with activities to encourage more children to come and watch.
Later in a one-on-one with ITD member Srividya Balayogi, Mr. Prashant Sutar had the following to say about the tournament.
Question: The ATP tournament has been very organized. What’s your review of the tournament so far and what have been the highlights?
Prashant Sutar: We have had excellent players and we have had wildcard players from a very young age. Even Cilic was appreciating our junior Manas. This is all because of what we have done in the past 5 years.
Question: Where do you think there is space for improvement when it comes to organizing?
Prashant Sutar: I think we have to somehow do some awareness programs about this event throughout the year among the public. We will have a dedicated children’s park next year, even if they don’t know tennis, being around itself is a boost. If some people start coming to the matches, more people will want to come and see them.
Question: How has the organizing experience been for the past 5 years and what are some of the challenges you have encountered?
Prashant Sutar: Last year COVID was a challenge, all over the world this was happening. But touch wood, we could execute it safely without any players getting COVID. We set an example for all sports bodies about how to go on with an event, go on forward. Other than that, we have a set team. Sunder is very experienced in organizing such big events. We have no issues running this event at all.
Question: How has it been having fans back in the stadium and having that sort of atmosphere?
Prashant Sutar: The crowd encouraging the players is important. Because of the crowd, the Indian Doubles pair probably pushed themselves much farther than expected. So it is very important.
Question: Was the decision to have the dates of the event before the Australian Open deliberate to attract more top players?
Prashant Sutar: Yes, we fought for it, we requested ATP to give us the slot. We spoke to them about wanting to develop India and Indian tennis tournaments to be established as well as the European tournaments. Only disadvantage is that we have to finish it on Saturday because the players have to go to Australia soon, otherwise normally we finish it on Sunday.