Mumbai: In preparation for the fifth season of the Tennis Premier League (TPL), the eight franchises came out of the auction after assembling competitive rosters with a mix of fascinating talent from across the globe and Indian players, here.
Sumit Nagal, who is the current All-India Tennis Association (AITA) No. 1 men’s singles player was brought into the league ahead of Season 5 of the TPL as the marquee player and was the most expensive pick at the auction. Despite stiff competition from other franchises for the signature of India’s star tennis player, he was picked up by Ramku Patgir-owned Gujarat Panthers for Rs 18.5 lakh, thanks to decisive bidding by the Panthers’ celebrity ambassador, Arjun Kapoor. Additionally, the Gujarat Panthers picked up Karman Kaur Thandi for Rs 8.5 lakh, who has three singles ITF titles to her name. The Panthers also added Mukund Sasikumar to their roster as they showed a knack for savvy business by picking up the up-and-coming Indian player.
Defending champions Hyderabad Strikers backed by the graceful Rakul Preet Singh showed a great nous at the auction as they came into the bidding event with a clear plan. The most expensive pick-up for the ENN Sport-owned franchise was Ellen Perez at Rs 14 lakh. Perez has won five doubles titles on the WTA Tour, two doubles titles on the WTA Challenger Tour, as well as two singles and 19 doubles titles on the ITF Circuit. The Australian player will bring a wealth of experience and talent to the Hyderabad team, who will be looking for their third consecutive TPL title. They were successfully able to retain the services of Nikki Poonacha, who played a pivotal role in the team’s success last season. The Strikers’ roster was complete when they brought Saketh Myneni, who was conferred with the prestigious Arjuna Award in 2017 and represents India in the Davis Cup.
The Bengaluru SG Mavericks were swift to complete their roster for Season 5 of the TPL as Indian tennis icon Sania Mirza and owner Rohan Gupta navigated the auction expertly. They secured the services of Arina Rodionova for Rs 17.1 lakh as the Russian-Australian became the most expensive female player at the auction and will give the Bengaluru team an edge, especially in the women’s singles category. Along with Rodionova, the Mavericks picked up Ramkumar Ramanathan for Rs 8.6 lakh. Ramanathan secured the Silver Medal for India at the ongoing Asian Games in Hangzhou in the Men’s Doubles Category, playing alongside Saketh Meyeni. Bengaluru completed their roster with the capture of Vishnu Vardhan, who is a true team player and has showcased the ability to adapt in tough situations which has always allowed him to put on tremendous displays in TPL’s fast-paced and action-packed format.
Speaking about the composition of the Bengaluru SG Mavericks, Sania Mirza said, “We were determined to pick Arina Rodionova in the Season 5 auction, knowing her impressive set of talent and abilities. Additionally, with Ramkumar Ramanathan and Vishnu Vardhan, I think we have a fairly balanced squad and are confident of going all out for the title this time. We have witnessed the craze for tennis in India in the past four seasons and I am happy to see how the Tennis Premier League is steadily becoming a platform for young talent across the nooks and corners of the country.”
The Pune Jaguars was led by their celebrity ambassador Sonali Bendre and owned by Punit Balan showcased great decision-making during the auction. They picked up Lukas Rosol while warding off interest from Delhi Binny’s Brigade. The Jaguars picked up Indian tennis star Rutuja Bhosale, she is the former Indian number one in the WTA doubles rankings and represented the nation in the Fed Cup back in 2012, the same year, she achieved her highest junior ranking in the world as she reached rank No. 55. Manish Sureshkumar was the last player brought by the Pune Jaguars at the auction.
Delhi Binny’s Brigade also assembled an elite roster of players for Season 5 of the TPL with their ambassador Malaika Arora and owner Sneh Patel present at the auction. They bought Dennis Novak for ₹15.2 lakhs, who is the current Austrian No. 1 in the men’s singles category and will come into Season 5 of the TPL after qualifying for the Wimbledon Championships for a third consecutive year. They picked up Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, who has a career-high ranking of No. 64 achieved in March 2019. He won the doubles title with Rohan Bopanna at the 2017 Chennai Open, in a historic final featuring four Indian players. The Delhi franchise picked up Vaidehi Chaudhari to complete their roster for the latest edition of the league.
Raminder Singh-owned and Taapsee Pannu-backed Punjab Tigers shifted their approach from last season as this time around they looked to buy Indian talent. However, the Tigers’ most expensive pick at the auction was one of the international stars from last season, Conny Perrin who was brought alongside in two extremely sought-after Indian tennis talents. Arjun Khade was picked up by the Punjab Tigers, he has won four ITF Futures singles titles and has also won three challenger and seven ITF Futures doubles titles. Digvijay Pratap Singh was the last pickup for the Punjab Tigers at the auction.
Last season’s finalists, the Mumbai Leon Army owned by Shyam Patel and backed by the magnanimous Sonu Sood assembled an impressive roster of players for season 5 of the innovative league. Their most expensive pick-up was the Latvian professional tennis player Ernest Gulbis for ₹ 14 lakh. Gulbis has six ATP titles to his name. His best performance at a Grand Slam was reaching the semifinals of the 2014 French Open. The Mumbai Leon Army secured the services of Sowjanya Bavisetti, who has a career-high singles ranking by the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) of 500, achieved in 2022. She also has a career-high WTA doubles ranking of 402, which she achieved back in 2014. Their last pickup at the auctions was Vijay Sundar Prashanth, who caught everyone’s eye when he won against Indian Davis Cup player Yuki Bhambri at the 2015 Aircel Chennai Open. Prashanth has a career-high ATP singles ranking of 335 achieved back in 2015. He also has a career-high ATP doubles ranking of 107 achieved in 2023.
The newest team to become part of the TPL, the Bengal Wizards, owned by Yatin Gupte and backed by Indian tennis legend, Leander Paes also conducted themselves with class during the auctions. Despite stiff competition from Gujarat, the Wizards were able to secure the services of Maria Timofeeva for ₹15.5 lakh. The 19-year-old Russian has won one singles title on the WTA Tour along with five singles titles and six doubles titles on the ITF Circuit since making her debut back in 2021 will give the Bengal Wizards immense youthful energy during the matches. They also picked up Sriram Balaji, who has a career-high ATP singles ranking of world No. 287, achieved in 2017, and a Double’s ranking of world No. 84 achieved in 2023. Balaji has won a total of nine ITF singles titles on the futures circuit as well as 43 doubles ITF Futures and six Challenger doubles titles on the circuit and is currently a member of the Indian Davis Cup team. The Bengal Wizards were successfully able to pick up Anirudh Chandrasekar, who has won three ATP Challenger doubles titles this year while playing alongside fellow TPL player Vijay Sundar Prashanth.
Brand Ambassador of the Bengal Wizards, Leander Paes spoke of his team’s composition as he said, “I am glad that we could pick up the supremely talented Maria Timofeeva who has been on an alarming rise since the past couple of years, along with Sriram Balaji and Anirudh Chandrasekar who come in as valuable additions to our team. This year’s auction was a memorable one not just for Bengal Wizards, but for the league as a whole with as many as eight international stars making their way into the diamond category. It gives me immense pleasure to see how the Tennis Premier League has improved with every passing season. I am looking forward to seeing the evenly-matched teams in action and hope that the best team wins.”
Speaking of the success of the auctions for Season 5 of the TPL, Co-founder Kunal Thakkur expressed his delight as he said, “We are overwhelmed with the response received for the auction and sincerely thank all the team owners, ambassadors, and the academy heads for coming together to make this event such an emphatic success. The Gujarat Panthers’ historic ₹18.5 lakh bid for Sumit Nagal, making him the most expensive Indian player ever, is a testimony to the heights Tennis Premier League has achieved over the four seasons and the tremendous potential it holds. The auction sets a precedent for a remarkable fifth season and we are eager to see the action unfold soon.”
Mrunal Jain, Co-founder of TPL added to the sentiment as he said, “The exhilarating bidding wars and seeing the most expensive player picks in their respective categories make this auction a truly memorable one. With the addition of some of the country’s best tennis players, we look forward to delivering another massive season of Tennis Premier League and are confident of becoming synonymous with the sport in India.”
The TPL tees off at the Balewadi Stadium in Pune in association with the the All-India Tennis Association (AITA) and Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA). The Innovative Tennis League will run from December 12 till December 17, 2023.