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‘Big 3’ of Indian tennis set to reignite passions of city fans

City’s tennis aficionados will get a rare opportunity to witness the game’s stars in action when Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Sania Mirza and the legendary Martina Navratilova play an exhibition match on Wednesday in Kolkata.

Titled ‘Masters Kolkata’, the event is part of the International Premier Tennis League’s exhibition tour and the players next travel to Hyderabad and New Delhi on consecutive days ahead of the season of the franchise-based tournament beginning in Kobe on December 2.

The build-up tour has its founder and Indian tennis legend Bhupathi teaming up with his former mixed doubles partner and current doubles World No 1 Sania in a rare engagement against Paes, who will play alongside the most successful women’s tennis player of all time, Navratilova. Paes and Navratilova had won the mixed doubles title at the 2003 Australian Open and Wimbledon.

The exhibition match will also see Bhupathi reuniting with Sania, with whom he had won two Grand Slam mixed doubles titles — Australian Open in 2009 and French Open in 2012.

“Season 1 of IPTL brought Indian tennis fans closer to tennis akin to Grand Slam action like never before. Yet, not everyone was able to experience that action up close and personal. The understanding and familiarity between the four of us has resulted in Grand Slam finals appearances and titles won. This will only contribute to the quality of competitive tennis being played on this tour,” Bhupathi said.

On how the promo tour lines up with his vision for the IPTL, which will begin its second edition on December 2 in Japan, Bhupathi said, “The response from season 1 was overwhelming and season 2 can only exceed expectations. The addition of a new franchise and stars like Rafael Nadal and Leander joining the ranks will surely make for some wonderful tennis on the cards.

“Ultimately it is about connecting tennis fans in India and Asia with some of the world’s best across the singles and doubles format. This exhibition tour is simply a taster of what to expect from IPTL Season 2,” Bhupathi added.

It will also be a nostalgia of sorts for the city’s tennis fans who relished the three editions of the Sunfeast Open from 2005-07 at the same venue of Netaji Indoor. The event did not take place thereafter as the WTA tier III event became an ITF event.

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