Long before Bengaluru became the IT capital of the country, the Garden City was renowned for its insatiable love for tennis. The Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA), despite its lacklustre settings and humble beginnings, was already one of the premier tennis properties in the country, a proving ground for some of India's rising stars.
Almost three decades after it hosted its first Challenger event, the new hard courts at KSLTA is set for the third edition of the Bengaluru Open which kickstarts on Monday.
Bengaluru Open is also the battleground for one of the strongest field assembled in a Challenger event in recent times, says Prajnesh Gunneswaran, the defending champion.
“All the good guys who played in Pune ATP last week are here and I am expecting a tough competition,” Gunneswaran, who is the highest-ranked Indian at 122 and seeded seventh in the competition.
Although the event suffered a mild setback with the withdrawal of top seed Ricardas Berankis owing to medical reasons, the field still boasts of good players who are in best of their form.
Second seed Stefano Travaglia from Italy began the current season with a runner-up finish at the Bendigo 2 Championship in Australia while third seed Japanese Yuichi Sugita had reached a ranking of 36 in the world just two seasons ago.
The fourth seed James Duckworth of Australia has won four out of six Challenger final appearances before landing in Bengaluru.
For his part, Gunneswaran has the distinction of entering the main draw of all the Grand Slams in the last season.
“I was carrying a few injuries which hampered my performance during the fag end of the Tour. However, I am almost in good shape and looking forward to a good week here,” said Gunneswaran who reached a career-high of 75 last year.
“Bengaluru has been a happy hunting ground for me and I like the conditions here although the ball plays a bit tricky here,” said the 30-year-old while adding “the tag of the defending champion is not playing on my mind. I intend to take a match at a time.”
Gunneswaran won't have it easy. The 2017 Bengaluru Open winner Sumit Nagal, who had a phenomenal run in 2019 with the famed first set win against the legendary Roger Federer in the US Open, will be close on his heels.
After earning his second Challenger Title at Buenos Aires and helping India rout Pakistan 4-0 in the Davis Cup tie, Nagal, ranked 125th and seeded eighth, will be raring to go.
“I am in my best of form. The experiences at the Grand Slam have boosted my confidence which helped me win on clay as well,” said Sumit. “I love coming here. The crowd, the setting and the environment gives me a positive vibe every time I play. Hope to repeat my 2017 performance,” said the 22-year-old, who reached a career-high of 125 in ATP rankings.
Both Gunneswaran and Nagal have earned a bye in their respective opening rounds.
Indian tennis legend Leander Paes too will be those among the fray.
Paes, who is in his swansong this year ending a decorated career spanning 30 years, remembers quite vividly the 1993 Challenger event he played at the KSLTA. He lost the semifinal then to a young Italian named Andrea Gaudenzi, who is now the current chairman of ATP.
Paes' return to KSLTA is his “one last roar”, a gesture of showing gratitude to everyone who has helped shaped his career. Bengaluru Open will be Pae's last event on the Indian soil.
“To my Bangalore friends, fans and tennis lovers, I am looking forward to entertaining all of you one last roar time. See you guys soon,” said Paes who last played in Bengaluru in the Davis Cup 2014 where he partnered with Rohan Bopanna to pull off an incredible win in the doubles tie against Serbia.
Priyank Kharge, former Minister for IT, BT, and Tourism who is the visionary behind Bengaluru Open and the chairman of the organising committee said that the entire crew is “glad and excited that Paes’ last match on Indian soil will be at the KSLTA court.”
The third edition of the tournament offers a total prize purse of $162,480 with the winner pocketing $21,600 and 125 ATP points. The runner-up stands to gain $12,720 and 75 points while the semifinalists will take home $7,530 each and 45 ATP points. The winning team in the doubles will be richer by $9,300 but more importantly 125 ATP points.