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By Our Correspondent, 17/07/2017, New Delhi

Twenty years ago, German legend Boris Becker was bedazzled at the sight of cows living on Chennai’s roads. He had arrived there for the Gold Flake Open, later named the Chennai Open. The iconic ATP World Tour 250 series tournament is replete with such charming anecdotes and touched with a 21-year history of hosting players of the calibre of Patrick Rafter, Carlos Moya, Rafael Nadal, Milos Raonic and Stan Wawrinka. Why, Wawrinka even considered the Chennai Open his lucky charm.

Over the years, it has become financially unviable, with the hosts Tamil Nadu Tennis Association incurring massive losses last season.

The uncertainty over Chennai Open, which starts in January, has prompted the Maharashtra government to pitch Pune’s Balewadi Stadium as the possible venue. In fact, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has set up two committees to work out the tournament’s logistics.

AITA CEO Hironmoy Roy told Mirror, “Since the Chennai Open is IMG’s property, it’s their prerogative where they want to host the tournament. As far as I know, it will be held in Mumbai. The modalities are being looked into. But it’s absolutely fine if it’s held in Pune.”

A government resolution issued by the Fadnavis government states that the Maharashtra Lawn Tennis Association has suggested to the government to organise the tournament in Balewadi, which hosted the Davis Cup in February 2017.

The move is also aimed to catapult Maharashtra into the international lawn tennis calendar and promote tennis in the state. Fadnavis’s ninemember committee is likely to name it Maharashtra Open Tennis Tournament.

The committee will have school education and sports minister Vinod Tawde as the vice-chairperson and chief secretary Sumit Mallick as members.

The president of the Maharashtra Lawn Tennis Association, Bharat Oza, and Commissioner, Sports and Youth Services Directorate, Pune, will also be part of the committee.

The government has set up another 12-member committee headed by Chief Minister’s trusted aides, including additional chief secretary Praveen Pardeshi.

The government has asked Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority to fund the cash prizes for the tournament — the Pardeshi committee will raise funds from other agencies such as CIDCO, Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC), Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), municipal corporations of Pune, Pimpri- Chinchwad, private banks and corporate CSR funds.

The government has also said that if additional funds remain after organising the tournament, they should be used for promoting lawn tennis in the state. In fact, lack of funds have been the Chennai Open’s bottleneck.

Poor gate money collection (roughly Rs 50 lakhs), lack of big sponsorship and barely any revenue from telecast rights have impeded India’s premier tennis tourney. The total budget to host the tournament is Rs 12 crores, with around 40 per cent coming from the title sponsor. Naturally, it had to be co-sponsored by the Tamil Nadu government.

But with lack of spectator interest obvious last year, it was a matter of time before the Chennai Open was shifted elsewhere.

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