Photo Credit: Strdel / AFP
With the number of franchise-based sporting leagues taking place nowadays, it becomes difficult to keep track of what is happening in the sporting world. Which is maybe the reason why one of India’s most prestigious tennis tournaments will begin on Monday, completely bereft of the hype that preceded the Champions Tennis League and the International Premier Tennis League.
But it should not be so. In terms of marquee events, the Chennai Open is head and shoulders above its competitors; unlike the IPTL which is an exhibition event at best, the Chennai Open is India’s only ATP World Tour event. It is also among India’s oldest tennis tournaments, with the first edition held in Delhi in 1996 before switching to Chennai and remaining there ever since. Legends like Patrick Rafter and Boris Becker have participated in the event and in many ways, it is probably the closest the country can get to watching tennis in a Grand Slam environment.
The one-handed backhand
While the line-up may not feature Federer, Djokovic or Nadal (who last participated in 2008 and was defeated in the final), the key player to watch at this year’s Open is Switzerland’s second favourite tennis son: Stanislas Wawrinka. The world number four is at the peak of his tennis career after snatching the French Open from Djokovic last year with an incredible display in the final, only the second Grand Slam title of his career. And the 30-year old Swiss has a special liking for Chennai – he has won three titles with two of them coming in the last two years. Considering the kind of form he is in, a hat-trick of titles is difficult to rule out.
But if the thought of watching one of Wawrinka’s dazzling one-handed backhands is not temptation enough, there are a couple of other exciting talents on display as well. South Africa’s highest ranked tennis player, the big-serving Kevin Anderson will make his debut at the Chennai Open this year as the second seed behind Wawrinka. Ranked 12th in the world, Anderson is coming off a year where he exceeded expectations – he led Djokovic by two sets in their fourth round clash at Wimbledon, surprising many before Djokovic eventually clawed back. Then at the US Open, Anderson achieved his biggest victory till date, defeating Andy Murray to advance to the quarter-finals where he was eventually defeated by Wawrinka.
The other exciting name to watch out for is Croatian teenage sensation Borna Coric who at 19 is currently the youngest player in the top 50. Despite his young age, Coric already has some notable scalps to his credit, most notably defeating then-world number three Rafael Nadal at the Swiss Indoors in 2014 and then going on to defeat Andy Murray at the Dubai Tennis Championships in 2015. He is definitely one to watch out for in the future and Chennai has a chance to witness a potential future champion.
Devvarman’s chance at redemption
The Indian contingent at this year’s edition suffered a bit of a blow after news filtered in that Yuki Bhambri, India’s top singles player, was pulling out due to an elbow injury. While Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes will participate in the doubles draw (though with different partners), Bhambri’s pull-out means that the mantle of carrying India’s singles flag will fall on Somdev Devvarman and Saketh Myeni who will both have to go through the qualifiers and clinch a place in the main draw.
For Devvarman especially, it has been a strange road. The last time he played in the qualifiers of the Chennai Open was in 2006 when he was considered India’s hottest tennis prospect. He made good on that promise and reached the finals of the 2009 edition, the only Indian to have done so. But recent years have seen his form plummet to such an extent he is now ranked 177 in the world. The only way now is up and maybe the scene of his greatest triumph can act as inspiration.
Unlike its more glamorous cousins, the Chennai Open will not have “Power Points”, super shootouts, countdown clocks or DJs playing music. What it will have, though, is serious tennis with the chance to see Wawrinka at the very top of his game.