The Fifth Slam: India Opens Her Heart To Top-Flight Tennis


NEW YORK - AUGUST 25: Tennis player Roger Federer attends a press confrence at the Nike Tennis Primetime Knockout event at Pier 54 on August 25, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Bryan Bedder/Getty Images)

The year is 2011. It is the august month of August.

The India Open is being launched with much fanfare.

The India Open is now officially the fifth Grand Slam tournament , the latest jewel in the ATP and WTA calendars.

In the wake of the unprecedented success of the Commonwealth Games 2010 in New Delhi, this tournament has been given hallmark status.

India have thumbed their nose at the Chinese and have cornered a Grand Slam tournament.

This Slam has its unique challenges. The courts are mud and uncovered.

Play continues in the rain. Come rain or shine, play will continue.

The tournament is scheduled to be played over two weeks. But if weather intervenes, play can continue for an additional week.

For the players, this is a unique opportunity to demonstrate their all-round prowess – in conditions wet or dry.

It is like playing cricket in the rains on uncovered pitches – an international Kanga league!

The press conference is scheduled to start at 4:00 pm , on the dot, at the Taj Hotel , The Gateway Of India.

At 4:15 pm, the journalists start trooping into the spacious Rendezvous meeting room.

By 5:00 pm, the promoters represented by Leander Paes, Kareena Kapoor, Mahesh Bhupathi and Lara Dutta are seated on the dais.

The players are represented by Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray.

The women players are conspicuous by their absence.

At 5: 15 pm, the conference begins with the initial questions directed to the promoters.

Journalist 1: Mahesh and Leander, what made you come up with the idea of an India Open?

Mahesh: It has always been my dream that India should produce a Grand Slam champion and this is just a stepping stone in that journey towards producing one. A home Grand Slam would allow our youngsters more opportunities to play top-flight competitions not to mention the wild cards that we as organizers can provide upcoming players.

Leander: It has always been noted that Indian players are not keen travellers. So an India Open allows them a fair chance of making good on their promise in familiar surroundings.

Bollywood actress Kareena Kapoor smiles during a news conference for the International Indian Film Academy (IIFA) awards in Colombo June 5, 2010. Colombo is playing host to the annual awards which are held in a different city each year -- a sign of Bollywood's efforts to broaden its global appeal. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri (SRI LANKA - Tags: ENTERTAINMENT)

Journalist 2: Kareena, what are your reasons for being associated with this tournament?

Kareena: Arre, I was maha (very) tired of Shilpa Shetty, Preita Zinta and Shah Rukh Khan having all the fun with their IPL teams. I , too, would like to take a chutti (holiday) from my many film shootings and what better way than this. Besides, the tennis players are cuter than our cricketers and their legs are almost  as good as mine. A truly international flavour.

(Kareena is actually here to promote her new film Egalite co-starring Leander Paes.

The film is an Indo – French production.

The movie posters are not so discreetly placed on the dais, and on the walls of the room.

Leaflets promoting the picture are being handed around to journalists whilst she speaks.

The room is packed , uncharacteristically so.

It is later discovered that a third of the journalists were from the film fraternity.

Kareena plays an obsessed ball girl who stalks Leander during his sojourn at the Grand Slams.

The film has steamy scenes – the players’ sauna travails are shown in graphic detail. Ice baths are made public – like never before.

It is rumoured that Lara was offered a role in the biopic but she saw the daggers in Bhupathi’s eyes and wisely declined.)

Journalist 2 (again): Lara, what about you? What do tennis and you have in common?

Lara Dutta: My , my! That’s easy to answer. Mahesh!

Journalist 3: Kareena, what about Saif (Ali Khan)? We don’t see him here!

Kareena: Arre! Saif and I have an understanding. Every year, we take two weeks off from our relationship. We have scheduled it so that those two weeks coincide with the India Open. No guilt on either side. We both get our space. Anyway, whatever I say goes! And for these two weeks, he goes!

(Now it is the players’s turn to face the pressing music. The first question is directed to Roger Federer)

Woman Journalist: So what do you think is unique about this tournament and can you name something specific that you like about it?

Roger (smiling): You know, in this tournament in the rains, the balls I hit would be as heavy as Nadal’s. I can thus get a bit of my own back.

Djokovic: I’m actually here to learn some chest-thumping from the expert duo of Lee-Hesh. I’m sure that would be a wonderful addition to my repertoire. You can soon catch me pantomiming them!

Murray: I feel that with another Grand Slam in the calendar, I stand a better chance of winning one. Besides, the Sun never sets on the British Empire. Also, the curry here is not much different from home.

(It is common knowledge in tennis circles that Murray is now an avid reader of probability theory.)

Nadal just grunts and says nothing. When asked to elaborate , he just points to Uncle Tony and says “Ask him.”

After a few more questions and some desultory answers, the press conference breaks up.

The players and promoters get together for an early dinner.

The journalists are seen rushing to the business centre to dispatch their sound bytes and copy.

The sun is seen setting in the west over the the Gateway Arch from a strategic view in the hotel.

Quote of the day:
Blame someone else and get on with your life. – Alan Woods

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