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Karatsev among nine Top-100 players headline as Tata Open Maharashtra to kick off on Jan 31

 
Pune, Jan 4 (IANS) World number 18 Aslan Karatsev and defending champion Jiri Vesely will be vying for the singles title alongside seven other Top-100 players as South Asias only ATP Tour tournament Tata Open Maharashtra gears up for a much-awaited comeback with an action-packed fourth edition, scheduled at the Balewadi Stadium here from January 31 to February 6.

One of Asia's longest-running tennis tournaments, in its 26th year, will be making a return after a year's break forced due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) will be hosting the prestigious tournament.

The 28-year-old Russian Karatsev had a phenomenal 2021 as he became the first-ever player to reach the semi-finals on his Grand Slam debut in Australia, bagged two singles titles, defeated tennis great Novak Djokovic as well as clinched a mixed-doubles silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics.

Hailed as Russia's "secret weapon" by teammate and World No. 2 Daniil Medvedev during their team's 2021 ATP Cup triumph, Karatsev will be eager to carry forward a sensational run and make his mark on his debut at Tata Open Maharashtra.

"We are thrilled to announce the return of this prestigious tournament. It has a rich legacy of having top players from across the world participating in it and the upcoming edition will be a testament to the same tradition. Despite the challenges and the pandemic, we are glad to see such a good response with players coming from the world over. We promise to bring yet another edition with a high-voltage action for the fans," said Prashant Sutar, Tournament Director of Tata Open Maharashtra.

With a stiff cut off at 149, the country's premier ATP 250 event will also witness some of the experienced names as well as promising young guns from the tennis world such as Australia's John Millman, Portugal's best tennis player of all time Joao Sousa and teenage sensation Lorenzo Musetti.

The 19-year-old Musetti made the headlines last year when he became the youngest player to break into the Top-100. In his short career so far, the young Italian star has impressed everyone with his consistent match-winning performances against the Top-10 players including Stan Wawrinka, Grigor Dimitrov, and Kei Nishikori.

While the 32-year-old experienced campaigner Millman will be another player to watch out at Pune's event. He had a breakthrough year in 2018 in which he defeated Roger Federer at the US Open and also entered the Top-50 in the world rankings.

India's Yuki Bhambri will also kickstart his campaign in the main draw with a protected ranking. After recovering from an injury, Bhambri is currently preparing for the upcoming Australian Open.

"We had worked really hard to bring back this tournament. I would like to thank all the stakeholders for their continuous support, throughout. We are aware of the challenges ahead but we are ready to tackle them all, strategically. MSLTA have successfully conducted a few tournaments recently and I believe we can pull this off too. The safety of the players as well as others involved is of prime importance to us and, as organisers, we will not compromise on that. We will be strictly following the government's Covid-19 guidelines to bring yet another successful edition," MSLTA Secretary Sunder Iyer said.

Czech Republic star Jiri Vesely, who ended his 5-year long wait for a singles title in the last edition, will be presenting a strong challenge on his comeback into the city. Among the other names, from the third edition, returning to Pune are: runner-up Egor Gerasimov, all-time highest ranked Lithuanian star Ricardas Berankis, World No. 49 James Duckworth, and Italian star Stefano Travaglia, who clinched his first ATP challenger title in Sibiu recently.

Former Youth Olympics champion Kamil Majchrzak, Moldova's first-ever ATP singles title winner Radu Albot, and World No. 62 Gianluca Mager are the other notable names from the acceptance list.

The qualifying draws will take place on January 30 and 31.

--IANS

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