Taking tennis to smaller centres

Vijay Amritraj says the Champions Tennis League will boost the game in the country

Taking tennis to smaller centres

In the last couple of years, India has witnessed a sudden spurt in sporting leagues. Almost every popular sport has a glitzy league of its own. In tennis there are even two leagues — Champions Tennis League and International Premier Tennis League — both started last year. With these events becoming increasingly competitive, the organisers are looking for innovative ways to attract audiences and carve their own niche.

Taking the sport to the smaller Indian cities has been catching up with many leagues. Hockey India League has got a tremendous response in centres like Ranchi and Lucknow and a bolstered Hockey India is now ready to host the World League Finals in Raipur, Chhattisgarh, in a brand new stadium.

Following suit is the Champions Tennis League which in its second season has added two smaller cities -- Raipur and Nagpur -- to its menu. It will be a win-win situation for the local fans, for whom it would be a rare opportunity to watch international stars like the 2015 US Open winner Flavia Pennetta, former World No 1 Jelena Jankovic, legendary Martina Hingis,  Feliciano Lopez, Adreas Seppi and big-serving giant Ivo Karlovic. 

The league’s founder Vijay Amritraj views this shift as a vehicle to promote the sport at the grassroots and provide fans at smaller centres an experience of witnessing live tennis. 

“For the longest time, it was Chennai Open which offered live international tennis of high quality to Indian fans. I feel now it was time to take it to the different parts of the country. We found there was a lot of interest in second-tier cities in holding the league and we zeroed in on Raipur and Nagpur. I am confident the response would be extremely encouraging,” Amritraj said.

The CTL, which offers Rs one crore to the winner and Rs 50 lakh to the runners-up, will be played in the following format: legend’s singles, men’s singles, women’s singles, men’s doubles and mixed doubles. In total, 24 players from the Legends, ATP, WTA and Indian player categories were picked by six franchises. The AITA will nominate two juniors (a boy and a girl) for each team who will get a chance to hit with these top players.

Amritraj was confident the league, which would take place in six Indian cities from November 23 to December 6, would open to packed houses in Raipur and Nagpur.

 “We will be in touch with the local organisers to hold more awareness programmes about the game and thoroughly advertise the league,” he said.

However, the CTL will have no teams from Delhi and Pune this year. Both franchises decided to withdraw this season.  Amritraj admitted there were a few hiccups in the opening season but felt they wouldn’t be short on buzz without major centres. “We would like to have Delhi back as a team in the coming seasons but it wouldn’t take anything away from the league. There is a possibility that we may explore other small centres in future but we will not be ignoring the major cities,” he said.

While the CTL has drawn Pennetta as the biggest attraction this year, it has also lost top Indian players like Leander Paes and Somdev Devvarman to the International Premier Tennis League (IPTL). “I won’t say we have lost them to IPTL. Lot of players can’t continue playing for the successive seasons because of varying reasons. For example, we had Venus Williams with us last year but since she wanted to focus on the professional circuit she didn’t join us this time around. So we are not looking too much into it,” Amritraj said.

The comparison with IPTL is inevitable but Amritraj has been staunch in promoting his tournament as an Indian league. He insists the success of IPTL had not impacted the future of CTL. “The only problem we have faced is a packed calendar. We had no other problems. We are not in competition with anyone. We have been very clear that CTL will have to be the national tennis league in India and we are working towards that. Our league comprises international players in Top-35 ranking along with six Davis Cup players and two juniors over two weeks. Our league is in fact broadcast to more cities than IPTL,” said Amritraj. The CTL has has Sony Six as it broadcast partner.

“We have tweaked our formats and reduced the set from six games to five, with a tie-breaker at 4-4. It is going to be exciting and competitive this season.”

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