New league will help find India's singles talent - Amritraj

MUMBAI: The franchise-based Champions Tennis League, which will begin its second season next month, will help end India's search for quality singles players, its promoter and former Davis Cupper Vijay Amritraj said.

Cricket lords over all other sports in India and the country of 1.2 billion has no men or women singles player in the top 100 while its players are world beaters in doubles.

Leander Paes, 42, has eight doubles grand slam title to go with nine in mixed doubles, while Sania Mirza, once a top-30 singles player, is currently the number one women's doubles player.

Amritraj lauded Mirza, who won this year's Wimbledon and US Open women's doubles titles with Martina Hingis, as an "inspiration" but reminded singles was the real deal.

"At the moment we are not good enough," Amritraj, famous for nearly beating Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon in 1979 and later appearing in a James Bond movie, told Reuters in an interview.

"As far as doubles is concerned, it's a great way to lengthen your career if you want to keep playing the sport and not do anything else," added the former Davis Cup finalist.

Amritraj expects CTL, scheduled this year between Nov. 23-Dec. 6, to help India unearth singles talents.

Each of the six franchises features an international male and female player, a 'legend', an Indian male player and a junior boy and a girl.

Singles players such as Fernando Verdasco, Kevin Anderson, Ivo Karlovic, Marcos Baghdatis and Feliciano Lopez and this year's US Open champion Flavia Pennetta and former world number one Jelena Jankovic have all been slotted into different teams.

"The goal is to produce singles players. The opportunity is increasing and CTL is giving them a chance to see these players in the world's top 25," said Amritraj, a winner of 16 singles titles.

"They get opportunities at finding out what they do, how they practise, their diet, their gym work and all of that. They have the opportunity to watch everything from close up and get inspired."

Amritraj said with more lower-tier tournaments held in the country, players don't have to fret over breaking into the world rankings anymore.

"I think there's no estimate to what the opportunities are. There's lot more television coverage, lot more sponsorship available, there's lot more tournaments," the 61-year-old, now a well-known television pundit, said.

"If players are playing enough matches and enough tournaments in India, there are enough ATP and WTA points available that can put you in the top 300 without having to leave the country.

"They had to go to Europe and face some tough situations and tough weather conditions and compete away from home.

"So this is less expensive and more opportunity. Having said that, there is also even more competition."