After thrilling crowds in Manila and Singapore, the Coca-Cola International Premier Tennis League has come to India this weekend. Multiple sightings of RF caps and t-shirts at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport and the increased air ticket prices to and from Delhi this weekend is proof enough that fans across the country have converged on the capital to experience the biggest tennis show in India.
Fans in Delhi and a few others, who can afford the expenses that a three-day stint in Delhi entails will consider themselves fortunate to have a ring side seat watching Roger Federer. But there are several others in India who may have missed out on the opportunity to experience what is being billed as the Happiness Open, since the event is not being held in a city close to them.
In earlier times, India had a tradition of several world class players making a stop over in the country and playing tournaments. But that was a long time ago and tennis fans in India are now starved of live world-class action. The ATP Chennai Open is the only professional tournament on the ATP or WTA Tour that is currently being held in the country.
Mumbai had a brief spot on the ATP Calendar for a couple of seasons and the WTA made a stop in India for a few years just as Sania Mirza exploded on to the international scene. But barring that, fans have been forced to make do with watching the top players only on their HD TV screens.
Tennis popularity on the rise in India
Perhaps, this would have been the perfect time to promote the sport in India by hosting the Coca-Cola IPTL across the country rather than across the Asian continent. In recent years, the popularity of tennis has seen a huge increase and a recent survey by SMG Insight/ YouGov picked it as the second most popular sport in the country with 44% of those surveyed following tennis in the media at least once a week and nearly a quarter of the population (23%) playing the sport, making it the sixth most participated sport in India.
Indian Tennis Heroes
The rise of tennis in recent years started with the terrific twosome of Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi, as they showed the world that we could be world champions in tennis, especially if it was in the doubles format. The success of the duo also brought in advertisers and marketing men and to this date the two doubles legends have a strong fan following.
That was followed by the arrival of Sania Mirza, who showed that Indians could compete at the highest level in singles as well, as she broke into the Top 30. Injuries may have restricted her to doubles in recent years but the 28-year-old continues to inspire millions of girls across the country as she sets her sights on the Doubles World No. 1 ranking in 2015.
Several other Indian players have caught our imagination. Rohan Bopanna is a top ranking world-class doubles player while Somdev Devvarman has been a regular fixture in the Top 100 for the past many seasons. Yuki Bhambri became the World No. 1 and Australian Open champion in the juniors a few years ago and now 20-year-old Ramkumar Ramanathan is set to become India’s next tennis sensation.
In recent times, India has proven to be strong hub for sports and leagues across diverse sports from hockey to kabbadi to badminton. There is now a distinct appetite for a pan-country league if the format and marketing is well planned. We have a strong TV audience and passionate crowd support backed by improving performance of our sportsmen/sportswomen on the International sports arena.
Across the sporting world, domestic leagues have enjoyed far more success and popularity than leagues spanning nations. Think football, and one thinks of the Premier League or the La Liga. Basketball has its NBA whereas even Ice Hockey has its NHL.
Sure, it’s great to watch the Indian Aces beat the Singapore Slammers or the Manila Mavericks but maybe it would have brought in the passion of a local derby if a Mumbai team featuring Roger Federer would take on a Pune team featuring Djokovic.
In any case, the Coca-Cola IPTL is here to stay and hopefully when Bhupathi adds two more cities next year, he will add one more Indian city to the mix.