The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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World meet off 2002 calendar

Calcutta: The official website of the ATP would have us believe that the 2002 World Doubles Championship is still in the offing. The dates are specified as November 11 and the venue column states TBA (to be announced). But the fact is, for the first time since the ATP Tour came into being 12 years ago, the season-ending meet has had to be scrapped.

The reason is simple and basic: there are no takers for the mega event which brings together the eight best teams of the year.

Dubious ‘history’ would have been established last year only had the Bangalore organisers not managed to persuade the ATP top brass to reschedule the November 2001 meet in end of January this year. The Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association (KSLTA) had to put off the meet last November because of the after-effects of September 11.

The KSLTA hosted back-to-back world championships successfully at its swanky stadium at the Garden City. The ATP was keen that Bangalore organise the meet a third time. But with corporate houses reserving their funds for next year’s cricket World Cup, it was easier inviting Tiger Woods to India than getting a sponsor for tennis.

Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi’s split in March didn’t help matters and Bangalore had no option but to say no to ATP. There was some discussion on the year-end doubles finale being merged with the singles championship to be held in Shanghai next month. A proposal to have a curtailed doubles meet with four teams didn’t finally get approved.

Doubles excites Indians’ senses as they have two champion exponents who have brought laurels galore for themselves and for the country. But the event has ceased to be an economically-viable product for quite some time now. Dwindling support from fans added to its woes.

So much so that the ATP has been forced to announce reforms which could revolutionise doubles from next season. Prize-money in doubles has been cut across the board. The ratio will change from 75 per cent in singles and 25 per cent in doubles to 80-20.

There will also be a limit to the size of the draw. Most tournaments will have a field of 16 teams, some of the bigger ones can have 24.

The most significant change relates to the entry rules. A standard draw of 16 will henceforth have eight direct acceptances based on doubles team rankings, five entries based on singles or doubles rankings and three wild cards.

The ATP obviously wants more top singles players to enter doubles. That’s how the gate receipts in doubles can be increased, they feel.

As a direct corollary, there will be a far lesser number of automatic berths for doubles specialists. Players ranked in the top 20 need not worry, but life for those beyond that mark will be uneasy.

Leander Paes, for example, is currently No. 21 on the individual doubles list. A miserable year, with half a dozen different partners, has pushed him down the ladder. If he fails to arrest the slide in the first half of 2003, the once world No. 1 would struggle to get directly into ATP meets.

Bhupathi is in a much safer zone. He is No. 3 following a great run with Max Mirnyi but will have a new partner in Joshua Eagle next season. The Aussie is not in the same league as Paes-Bhupathi or even Mirnyi, so he has to match high standards set by the Indian.

Three-four months are all that he’ll get to win Bhupathi’s confidence, otherwise the Bangalorean will have to look elsewhere.

Clearly, times are a’changing. Doubles specialists need to be on their toes like never before.

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