There are so many firsts that has happened for Pickleball India in the last few months. While there were the 1st Superleague and the 1st Women’s Tournament in Mumbai, a first-of-its-kind Pickleball Academy with a dedicated court was opened in Bengaluru. There was also the 1st major controversy in Indian Pickleball when an organization with the name of Asian Pickleball Federation was formed by some officials of Rajasthan and Uttarakhand without any prior intimation to the All India Pickleball Association (AIPA). As AIPA is the sole National Governing Body for Pickleball in India, it has severed all ties with those officials and their respective organizations. So, with many highs and some lows, Pickleball is definitely going to be the next big thing in India. And now the stage is all set to further take it forward; the Indian Open 2018 is ready to unveil.
The first edition of the Indian Open was held at Jamnabai Narsee School in Mumbai in October 2017. The event was hosted by AIPA where for the first time international Pickleball players played in India. There were 20 international players and 80 national players enthusiastically participating in the tournament. After its success, AIPA considered to continue the tournament this year too for its second season. This time the venue for the tournament is Goregaon Sports Club, one of the most renowned and largest sports clubs located in Western Suburbs of Mumbai. But not only the change in venue, this season of Indian Open will see some other very significant changes. To know things better, Sportsavour was in conversation with Manish Rao, the Tournament Director of Indian Open.
BASIC FORMAT OF THE TOURNAMENT
Manish Rao: The tournament is going to have three events- Men’s Doubles, Women’s Doubles and Mixed Doubles. Each event has 32 teams with a total of 20 international players and 196 Indian players. There are international players from UK, USA, Czech Republic, Denmark and Thailand.
NOTED INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS
Manish Rao: There are quite some stars in this year’s line up. We have Alison Fulton, the former Scotish Badminton player who has been a top-graded 5.5 Pickleball player. Then we have Reino Anderson from Denmark. Indian-origin players like Ravi Shetty, Puneet Kalra, Supriya Deshpande and Sachin Pathare are coming from US. There is also Blake Stephenson from USA. Lenka Minickova is representing Czech with her doubles partner Arrirat Noonyod from Chiang Mai, Thailand. Representing Hua Hin of Thailand are Bill and Jang Evans. Other than these foreign players, the presence of other international names like David Kukleski from Gamma Sport and Jang Papi from Pickleball Global will make this tournament even brighter.
PRESENCE OF INDIAN PLAYERS
Manish Rao: Yes, we have all our best players in the tournament. AIPA has chosen the players according to their seedings. They may play for their respective clubs or states but at the Indian Open they will play for the nation. And I hope that is enough for them to give their best.
CHALLENGES FOR INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS
Manish Rao: This is really interesting. Indian Open, I feel, will definitely be a different ball game for the international players. I have played in USA, Thailand but most of the tournaments have knock-out format only. But here every player has to play league rounds first and then the knock outs. So, playing 3-4 league matches and then the knock outs will be really challenging for them in this humid condition. Next challenge will be coming from the Indian players. We have some very good players who are extremely wristy. International players will definitely have to face a lot of spin and swing of the balls. This will be really appealing to watch. Another thing they have to face is the non-division of players according to their skill level. In international tournaments the players have to face equal opponents as per their skills. But here, they have to face anyone at the other side of the net.
OFFERINGS AS A TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR
Manish Rao: It was 15 days before that I took the decision of not playing the tournament due to a serious toe injury. As I reclined from being a player, AIPA considered me as the Tournament Director and I am grateful for that. I am also thankful to Rahul Wani, the former TD, who has promised all support. And obviously there is Chetan Kate who is always there to help. As a TD, my first and foremost responsibility is to see that the tournament has a smooth run. We must have a fun tournament and every player will be responsible for making it a fair one. In the league matches, the players will themselves be responsible for line calling. This is itself unique and it is how some international tournaments are played. I will also have to be always on my toes, shouldering all the responsibilities. Any shortcomings, I can’t brush away by saying that it is not in my jurisdiction. So, it’s a duty given to me by AIPA and I will make all efforts to come out successful.
INTERNATIONAL STANDARD VENUE
Manish Rao: Goregaon Sports Club is one of the premier sporting centres of Mumbai and we are privileged that they have opened their doors for us. It is a fully equipped club where there are open grounds for promoting outdoor sports like Cricket, Football, Volleyball, Basketball, Lawn Tennis etc. and has facilities for indoor games like Badminton, Squash, Billiards, Snooker, Table Tennis, Chess, Carrom, Skating, Air Rifle shooting etc. We will be playing on their Basketball court that will be customized to form six Pickleball courts. This is for the first time in India that matches will be played on six courts at the same time. GSC also has in-house facilities like lodging, restaurants, gym and other recreational activities. So, we are all hoping that players will have a great time on all three days.
Manish Rao: We are extremely glad to announce that we are naming this tournament as AR Natarajan Memorial Indian Open 2018 after the family of noted sportsman AR Natarajan has agreed to support this tournament. It will be powered by Ekta World, the entity which is headed by Mr Ashok Mohanani, a passionate Pickleball player. Pickleball Global will go live with the format, fixture, schedule and results. Jang Papi will be present here to supervise everything. We will use Dura 40 as the official ball. Pickleball Central will grace the event with goodie bags. Paddles will be given by Gamma Sports and Pickleboat will sponsor the T-shirts. We are extremely grateful to Virendra Bhandarkar who will be giving T-shirts for the officials. We also have local sponsorships from Onix, Pickleball Rocks, Prolite, Franklin Sports, Shelkirk and Combat Sport. The Pickleball clubs of Mumbai like ClubMK, Team KG, Team Amar, Team NX, Club JMD and Club Link have promised cash sponsorship for the tournament. So, hoping to have a great tournament that can open many avenues for Pickleball India.