Veteran doubles specialist Leander Paes has been handed a wild card entry for the third edition of the Tata Open Maharashtra which gets underway from February 3 at Mhalunge Balewadi Stadium.
The 46-year-old, who has partnered alongside Australian Mathew Ebden, will face stiff challenge from rising India star and defending champion Divij Sharan in the first round. Sharan, who clinched doubles title in the last edition with Rohan Bopanna, has teamed up with New Zealand’s Artem Sitak this time around.
The announcement was made during the draw ceremony held on Saturday in presence of Tournament Director Prashant Sutar, Treasurer Sanjay Khandare and Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) secretary Sunder Iyer.
“We are really happy to welcome the tennis legend back in Pune. He has serviced the nation and won countless laurels for the country. He has inspired many Indian youngsters. It will be great for Pune crowd to come to the stadium and watch the legend play one last time,” Sutar said.
India top-ranked singles player Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Italian star Stefano Travaglia were also present during the ceremony.
It will be the final appearance at the event for Paes who is an eight-time doubles winner at Grand Slam tournaments. “It will be the last tournament for Paes in India. We decided to give him wild card entry as it is going to be tribute to what he has done for the country,” Iyer said.
Another ace Indian doubles player Rohan Bopanna, alongside local boy Arjun Kadhe, will face French pair of Antonie Hoang and Benoit Paire.
Meanwhile, in the singles category main draw, Gunneswaran will face Yannick Maden in the first round while the India No. 2 Sumit Nagal will be up against a qualifier.
Results of singles qualifiers: Roberto Marcora (Italy) bt Filippo Baldi (Italy) 6-3,6-2; Matthew Ebden (Australia) bt 1-Zhang Zhizhen (China) 6-3,6-2; Blaz Rola (Slovenia) bt Malek Jaziri (Tunisia) 6-7(5), 7-6(6), 7-6 (2); Robin Haase (Netherlands) bt Frederico Ferreira Silva (Portugal) 3-6, 7-6(5), 6-4; Lukas Rosol (Czechia) bt Ernests Gulbis (Latvia) 6-4, 6-4.