Serve and Vaali!

The Chennai Open tennis tournament got underway this week. This is the 21st year of the tournament that is, well, 22-years-old.

The thing is Chennai has been hosting this tournament from 1997 only. But the organisers, in a typical marketing hard-sell, which in normal language would be lying, billed the 2015 year’s event as the 20th edition. They did so because they — when you get down it, you’ll accept it is pretty fair — there was a similar tournament in 1996 itself, but just that it was hosted by New Delhi. And they possibly reasoned, what is the big difference between Delhi and Chennai, give or take 2100-odd kms. So, Chennai Open Tournament will always be older than its actual age, like some kind of tennis version of actor V K Ramaswamy.

Crank’s Corner was at the Nungambakkam Tennis Stadium this week to savour the action of top-flight tennis players. And here are some snippets from the first three days:

1st Day

The first Monday of the Year, a fresh start to a popular tournament that has in the past seen, among others, giants like Boris Becker, Pat Cash, Patrick Rafter, Carlos Moya, Rafael Nadal, Stan Wawrinka, and understandably there is palpable excitement among the gathered tennis fans, probably numbering around 43. The media personnel at hand to cover the tournament could be about 60-70.

It is pretty early. The fans will start coming in as the night sets in, I, as a seasoned sports correspondent, surmise. How right I am. As the night wears on, the general crowd goes from 43 to about 25. If ever they chase me out of sports journalism, I think I have a good career ahead of me as a political reporter, especially one covering elections. (“The winner of Punjab elections now looks to be V K Sasikala“).

“There are no big names in action today, the tournament officials should come up with something to attract the common public on days like this,” says one of the ushers. Like what, I ask him back. “Have some filmi attraction perhaps…” he trails off. Should we tell the organisers to play Dangal on the giant screen? I almost tell him. But poor chap, he was only amplifying the larger reality in these parts.

You have a world-class tennis tournament, the facilities at the stadium are pretty decent, top-notch players participate in it, and still the feeling is it needs a cinema personality, who probably hears volley as an Ajith film, to attract the public.

I am sure nobody is going to tell a film producer to improve the prospects of his film by including in it clips from, I don’t know, 2008 Wimbledon men’s finals.

On the bright side, new strobe lights have been installed in the top corners of the centre court. And between sets and matches, they turn it on, giving plenty of excitement to the guy who is assigned the task of operating it. Otherwise, nobody even seems to notice it.

2nd day

It is a chilly evening by Chennai’s standards (Chennai weather guide — Summer: Inside the oven. Winter: near the oven). The first match on the centre court has the Brit Aijaz Bedene taking on the Spaniard Guillermo Garcia-Lopez. Two of the marquee tennis players probably among their respective family circles.

Anyway, in the match, as Lopez hits a crunchy backhand down-the-line winner, a young boy, yells out vamos‘, which if you follow tennis, is the popular Spanish expression (come on!) to egg Spanish players. The young boy is truly part of the ‘Knowledgeable Chennai Crowd’, I tell myself. The lad soon asks what looks like his mom, “how does the point system work in tennis? Why 40 after 30?” The French invented the tennis scoring system, so it is bound to be ridiculous, I want to tell him.

But I am worried that he understands the nuance of vamos, but doesn’t know how points in tennis are tabulated. But this is what happens when you acquire your knowledge via Twitter or Facebook.

After this, there is real anticipation as two Indians,Yuki Bhambri and local talent Ramkumar Ramanathan, face off, which means we will see something that is probably not happened for a longtime in an ATP singles event: An Indian in the second round.

Bhambri is too powerful for his off-colour opponent and the match lasts a little less than, well, Chennai winter season (usually an hour or two). The vociferous and desperate chants of ‘Come on, Ramanathan‘ by a section of the fans do not work. But that could also be due to the fact that Ramanathan is his father’s name.

3rd Day

Marin Cilic, the tournament’s top-seed and a former winner here, is on the centre court, and pitted against him is the qualifier Jozef Kovalik, and the match is splendid with the unheralded Kovalik winning in 3 sets. A big upset, you bet. But Kovalik himself might have reasons to feel upset as the lady who introduces him at the start of the match, says he is a Slovenian when he is actually a Slovakian.

A pity that she didn’t know that Slovenia and Slovakia are two different countries. Probably she should take lessons from that ‘Knowledgeable Chennai Crowd’ lad, who, I am sure, knows what vamos is in Slovakian.

Anyway, see you at the next year’s tournament, which, if the marketing people have their way, could be the silver jubilee edition.