When it rains, it pours—the adage holds especially true for Indian tennis over the last couple of months. After being left high and dry for two years in terms of top level tennis, India has hosted four elite tournaments in five weeks.
The post-Covid break re-jig in the ATP calendar gave India three events on the bounce early in the season—the ATP 250 Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune from January 31 to February 6 followed by two ATP Challenger events in Bengaluru held back-to -back from February 7 to 20. A week later, the lawns of Delhi Gymkhana sprang to life, hosting the country’s first Davis Cup home tie in three years, which India pocketed 4-0 against Denmark to round off the rare home run.
In all these events, the cream of India’s male pros got the opportunity to compete in their backyard—a luxury, given the paucity of tournaments in India—and in front of a decent number of eyeballs relishing tennis action after a long pause. Some players got more game time while reducing travel time heading for tournaments abroad; some earned crucial match or title victories while a few climbed the rankings ladder.
Ramkumar Ramanathan and Yuki Bhambri were perhaps the busiest, and gained the most. The former added to his title-winning start to the year in Pune, teaming up with senior compatriot Rohan Bopanna to win the Tata Open doubles crown for his career’s second ATP doubles title, after Adelaide. The Pune title gave the 27-year-old a spot in the top-100 doubles chart for the first time. Ramkumar took the momentum to Bengaluru, where he paired up with another experienced Indian, Saketh Myneni, to win the Bengaluru Open 1 doubles title and reach the Bengaluru Open 2 final, where the two lost to India’s Arjun Kadhe and Austrian Alexander Erler.
For all his doubles delight, Ramkumar wasn’t able to replicate the form in singles. India’s highest-ranked singles pro at world No 170 lost in the opening round in all his three matches on the hard courts of Pune and Bengaluru. That’s where he found solace in the advantage a home Davis Cup tie offers. India opted to compete with Denmark on grass, a surface that suited Ramkumar’s serve and volley game. It was on show on Friday and Saturday with the Chennai man feeling more at ease on the Gymkhana greens, winning both his singles to give India what they have lacked in the team event lately: “W” in singles.
Bhambri got that W too, in his first Davis Cup appearance in almost five years after returning from a long knee injury layoff. “Davis Cup was the icing on the cake,” said Bhambri, who gave India a 2-0 lead by winning his singles tie. “Thankfully, I got a few matches under my belt. Some good matches, good wins.”
The home tournaments provided the platform. The former world No 83, now 590, used his protected ranking to get into the singles main draw of the Tata Open, where he won the opening round for his first ATP Tour level victory in almost four years. He then chose to play doubles in the Bengaluru Challengers with Divij Sharan and made a dash to Dubai the week prior to Davis Cup. There, he beat Tata Open champion and top-100 pro Joao Sousa in the first qualifying round of the ATP 500 event before losing in the next. However, the injury-hit 29-year-old came into the Davis Cup with much-needed match time under his belt.
“Indian tournaments are something that we always look forward to,” Bhambri said. “It helps, not just in terms of less travel but performance-wise too. For me, it was about getting back to playing matches.”
A clean circuit
The former junior world No 1 hoped the string of ATP events woven together in India this year would become a trend, a sort of a mini circuit where a bunch of tournaments are packed in a country at a particular time. “Like it is in the US and the Australian summers,” Bhambri said. “Hopefully, we can have some sort of an Indian summer as well. It’ll be a great circuit to play in.”
It could also potentially be a factor in future Davis Cup ties scheduled at home.
“Of course, you’re not always going to have a home tie, but chances are that every other year you have one. To play that with (home) tournaments in February coming into March, it will be a whole lot of fun,” he said.
Playing in India was fun for a few others as well. The seasoned Bopanna won his third home ATP title in Pune, Myneni pocketed another Challenger doubles title at 34 and the 28-year-old Kadhe clinched a doubles crown in Bengaluru. Delhi boy Sharan too relished putting on a show partnering Bopanna in the Davis Cup doubles victory in front of fans at the Delhi Gymkhana, where he first picked up a tennis racquet. “I went and saw the place where it all began for me. It was pretty special,” he said.
Sharan, who paired up with Bhambri for the events in Pune and Bengaluru, felt it helped just being in “Indian conditions” for a considerable period heading into the home Davis Cup tie.
“It was nice just hanging around with the same players—all of us were sort of together for those weeks—and having that camaraderie. We could also get together a little bit earlier in Delhi, which gave us that extra time to prepare,” the southpaw said.
“It was good to have these tournaments in India and for some of our players to enjoy some success. Even for the lower-ranked players because they usually miss out on these events.”