BOGOTA, July 17, 2013 - Nowadays, sports lovers have their eyes fixed on the ATP 250 Claro Open Colombia that takes place in the renovated courts of the Sports Hight Altitud Centre, a tournament that in one or another way pull up the status of Colombia as organizer of sports events.
It has been more than 10 years since (so far my memory goes back) this country has host several international tournaments as well as exhibitions matches with a top 10 players such as Challengers, Futures and the friendlies between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras; Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic and most recently Roger Federer and Jo Wilfred Tsonga. I hope not to be wrong by saying that these six players has helped Colombia`s name to sound loudly in the international tennis field; that, and some money that needed to be invested, made the ATP 250 Claro Open Colombia a reality. According to Manuel Mate, Imla de Colombia Director, “there are a lot of people in Colombia who likes tennis, there are many of them who has taken it as its passion and we have push that passion by giving them friendly matches and by bringing great international players, of course not leaving behind the competitive part, with the Challengers and Futures. Now that we are inside the ATP, we have been giving us and the Colombians the opportunity to grow with this tournament”
This ATP 250 was until last year the tournament of Los Angeles, USA, which for 86 years made fans from West California to enjoy the game of the greatest players in the world, such as Pete Sampras, John McEnroe, Tommy Hass, Juan Manuel del Potro among others; from this 2013, Imla de Colombia bought the rights and it is the turn of Colombian fans to enjoy; an event that because its place in the international calendar, start a series of hard surface tournaments, before the USA Open. For this first time, it seems fourteen Top 100 players led by the Serbian Janko Tipsarevic number 14 in the ATP world ranking.
Imla de Colombia has worked really hard to made tennis an important sport in the country, it is difficult to be successful in a place where football is a cult, especially with journalists who thinks that being a Sports Journalist is to know or to talk about football, well, there is much more in front of us, and over the years Tennis has show the wide range of opportunities this sport has to offer.
At the moment, in South America, Colombia is the fourth country to hold an ATP tournament, along with Chile (Viña del Mar), Argentina (Buenos Aires) and Brazil (Sao Paulo).
THE IMPORTANCE OF THE ATP IN COLOMBIA
Before all, it is important to say that this was the third time Colombia had attempted to get the ATP Tournament, first was in 2008, then in 2009 and finally and successfully in 2012.
Manuel Mate, Imla de Colombia director, company that organises the tournament, says that “The importance of having this tournament in Colombia, is putting a foot at the door and open the path to the high standards that tennis has worldwide and to which we are back after 12 years. That is what happens when someone opens the door for you, you put your foot inside and then you should not step back ever, because inside that door there are many things to do, and now we are just giving this first step forward."
It has not been easy to bring this ATP to Colombia; all was really complicated as Mr Mate has stated “it means to get into a club of 61 tournaments in the world, each owner of those 61 does not want to leave it nor even to sell its stoke, so it is basically to be aware during 10 years to see who is not in its best moment and propose to sell it, however after all, the most important part is to get the ATP, approval as well as Board Directors and players”.
Something to keep in mind -and I hope not to be so pretentious-, is that Latin America is considered to be in its best economic moment, the future of the world seems to look to this part of the globe, even more than to China or the Arabian countries, and that is why big companies has been taking advantage of.
WHAT PLAYERS THINK?
Alejandro Falla, (29), Ranking ATP 91 and number 2 in Colombia, says that “within an ATP Tournament in Colombia there are several things that come together and are very positive, first; this is a great opportunity to show our country to the world. Second, as a tennis player it is really good too, to show our potential and fight for the title, I am very happy to be part of this huge event as this become the most important tournament in Colombia of all times”.
As a host player there is always a big responsibility to play good and to win, to what he said: “we have some advantage to be locals and to count with the fans support, but still we feel nervous at some point, however that support will put those nerves away”.
Juan Sebastian Cabal, Ranking number 1 in doubles for this ATP 250. “This tournament is very important, there are not many of this in South America, and an ATP is not just important in the American continent but around the world”.
You and Robert Farah are seed number 1 in this ATP 250 and had wrote your names in the doubles competitions around the world, but how hard it is to play doubles? “We are leaving a great name in the circuit, every game give us the opportunity to show why we are doing so good in the international tennis. About playing doubles, the most difficult is understand each other, fortunately, Robert and I have the advantage that we know each other since we are child, we are friends in and outside the court, and we are just like a family. It is very important that a player helps when the other could feel down, all in pro of the victory so it is easy to keep a balance within the game”.
Janko Tipsarevic (29) Ranking ATP 14 and seed number 1 in the ATP 250 Colombia. “Playing in the altitude is what I like, so it will be great to play in Bogotá -2600 meters above the sea-. However it was not an easy decision, I knew that Bogota got an ATP instead L.A. and I always knew it is in a high altitude, but wherever I play depends a lot on my schedule, besides that, it was really cold in Europe and I have the feeling that the balls does not flies anywhere, that is one of reasons because I enjoy playing in an altitude because I feel it is easier for me to control the ball”.
Janko is a good player that has been within the Top 10 of the ATP Tour and as many, he has strengths and weakness. Janko has mentioned which they are: “I think my strengths is, that I like to play aggressive tennis, on the other side, how to defend is not my best, I do not say I do not know how to defend but it is not my best strength.
Janko seems to be an easy going player, easy to talk and good with the media. That is why he gave us, the journalist an option to ask more personal question. So, what is Janko´s biggest motivation to play tennis? To be honest, I do not have one motivation in terms of the sport; I think it is very important to set up goals. It is honestly a very good question I do not know what to say. I do love this sport and I really want to be the best that I can be, but I guess the main answer will be that when I stop playing I do not want to have any regrets or to have as few as possible”.
Finally when asked how he could create the prefect tennis player in the world from a bit of his favourites, his answer was: “I would probably choose the serve of Ivo Karlovic, the forehand of Fernando Gonzalez, I would stay with my backhand, the fight spirit of Rafael Nadal and the conversion from defence to offense of Novak Djokovic.
WHAT HAPPENED WITH L.A.?
As I could talk with Mr Mate, after 87 years the tournament was held in Los Angeles, I could say that the main reason for Los Angeles not being in its best moment after all, is because it is located in the same zone of the Indian Wells, an ATP 1000, of course better money prize for the players, more than US $800.000 for men and women too. Therefore, many of the sponsors in that region went to support the Indian Wells and so for L.A. all things became more difficult to hold a tournament like this, even though it is the based in the ATP Pyramid; then it is the ATP 500, after the ATP 1000 and finally a Grand Slam.
Los Angeles, after three years of fighting, could not make to keep it and it was when the owner of the ticket, the Southern California Tennis Association decided to sell the stock. Sadly for them to leave it go, happily for Colombian to received it.
Colombians hope that in the future, tennis players within the Top 10 could play in Bogotá, it is not a dream even though they have more than 30 tournaments to choose from. The most important thing is to start to draw Colombia´s name in the international orbit, then the organizers could think even higher. But it is important to remember that the players that come this year could become the top 10 in 5 years or so; twelve years ago Bogotá saw players such as Coria, Gaudio, Muster, between others. So, for most of us who love sports, this is a huge starting.