New Delhi: India will host its first WTA tournament in five years when the city of Mumbai stages a USD 125,000 event in November, giving home players an opportunity to compete with the world's top-50.
Yet again, it is Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) which has come forward to bring the much-needed tournament to the country.
MSLTA had recently bagged the hosting rights of India's ATP World Tour event, Chennai Open and it was re-branded as Maharashtra Open, to be held in Pune.
"It's time that our players such as Ankita Raina, Karman Kaur Thandi, Rutuja Bhosale and others get to play at a better level and try to move up the rankings ladder. For the players' interest we have brought this event to Mumbai," MSLTA Secretary General Sunder Iyer said.
The last time India hosted a WTA event — Royal Indian Open — was in 2012 in Pune when current world number five Elina Svitolina had won the singles title by beating veteran Japanese Kimiko Date-Krumm.
There will be four wild cards each on offer in main draw and the Qualifiers of the Mumbai Open. Top players in the country at that time are likely to get those wild card entries.
India's best singles players, save for Ankita Raina (262), can't get direct entry into the main draws of WTA 125K level events with their current rankings. Karman Kaur Tahndi (349) and national champion Riya Bhatia (519) follow Raina in the ladder.
"It will be an opportunity for players to get some crucial points ahead of the Australian Open. Also, players who are to return from injuries and niggles, this event will serve their purpose. Players ranked between 11 and 50 will compete and it's good for our girls to get that exposure," Iyer said.
So far, India has hosted only two USD 15,000 events -- one in Gwalior and the other in Aurangabad.
"I am very much looking forward to the WTA event at home. It will be a great exposure and experience for all of us since it's quite tough to enter a WTA event. I would like to request AITA to host more of these tournaments," Ankita Raina told PTI from Prague.
Thandi said, "It will be great for women's tennis with that kind of event happening in India."
MSLTA has lined up three more USD 25000 events which will be held in Pune and Navi Mumbai and one USD 15000 tournament in Solapur.
Together with a USD 50,000 Challenger with all these women's events, lined up in November in Pune, MSLTA would spend close to USD 300,000 in organising these tournaments.
This is when other state associations, including DLTA, are struggling to generate funds for a single tournament.
Prashant Sutar, MSLTA Director (Development Committee), said if a proposal is put before corporates and the government with the "right vision", it's not difficult to raise money.
"We have KPIT as dedicated sponsors for men's challenger and a dedicated local mill as sponsors for Solapur. We have understood that proposal should be presented in a particular manner to get sponsorship," Sutar, who will be Tournament Director for both WTA and ATP World event in January, said.
Sutar is hoping that Raina will be able to get a direct entry and Rutuja will be a strong contender for the singles wild card since she is a player from Maharashtra.
"For international players, we will see, during the US Open which players are interested in coming to India. We have the option of offering wild cards to them," Sutar said.
Thandi said if India can host such tournaments on a regular basis, nothing can be better.
"With a ranking of 349, I would be in the main draw of 60k and qualifying of 100k and 125k. Having a training base in France, I have to spend two weeks at a time for visa to countries like Japan, China, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and most of Asian countries by skipping training.
"If India were to host 60k and above tournaments, it will be good financially and I will get time in India for my next tournament visa," Thandi said.