Multiple Grand Slam winner Mahesh Bhupathi on Thursday said that India needs to produce a top-50 women’s singles player who can bring the fans to the stadium if the country wants to host big-ticket WTA events.

India has just one WTA event – the $125,000 Mumbai Open – but has a number of ITF $25,000 events, most of them hosted by the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association.

Bhupathi cited the example of Sania Mirza, who he said was the sole reason to bring the Hyderabad Open to the city in 2005.

India hosted WTA tier III tournaments from 2004 to 2008, but since then there have hardly been any WTA events in country.

“When Sania was playing, there were a lot of people watching,” Bhupathi said. “In any sport, you need to have a champion to champion the sport.

“In badminton, Saina [Nehwal] did well, now [PV] Sindhu and [Kidambi] Srikanth and all are doing well. We don’t have a girl in the top 50 to champion a WTA event.

“We were fortuitous about the timing of our WTA event. We went and chased WTA event and brought it to India because of Sania’s breakthrough.”

Mirza, who recently gave birth to a baby boy, should not rush her return to competitive tennis, said Bhupathi.

Mirza and her cricketer husband Shoaib Malik welcomed their first child in October and she has been out of action since the beginning of the 2018 season.

“She will come back when and if she is ready,” said Bhupathi, who won the French Open mixed doubles trophy with Mirza in 2009.

“When you have a baby, priorities are different. When I had a baby, priorities were different. It didn’t come out of my stomach, I can imagine it’s harder for her.

“So she has to take her time and decisions as they come.”

India’s non-playing captain reiterated that taking on Italians on grass is their best chance to beat them in the Davis Cup Qualifiers on February 1-2 next year.

“In Davis Cup, you always try and play to the strengths of your team and when Somdev [Devvarman] became No 1, grass was not an option anymore,” he said.

“Now the team we have, grass suits a lot of the players and we are happy to be back.

“We are just happy to be playing a big match at home and obviously Kolkata for me is a special place, where I made my debut. There is so much amazing tradition in tennis here.”

The premier team competition in men’s tennis will return to the South Club after a gap of 16 years.
Having made his debut in Kolkata, Bhupathi said: “It’s sad, it’s been a long time. There’s so much tradition here and we enjoy playing.”

As per the new format, 24 teams will vie for top honours in the Qualifiers on home and away basis with the 12 winners joining six more in the Finals in Madrid from November 18-24 next year.

“The format is altered so regardless of what anybody says, it is what it is today,” said Bhupathi.

“As a Davis Cup captain I take the rules and our team tries to win by the rules, that is the bottom-line.”

Bhupathi further spoke about the upcoming Australian Open next month and said one should not write off the legendary Roger Federer.

“Four years ago, a lot of people told me Federer can never win a Grand Slam again and then he won three,” he said.

“The genius of Roger Federer, you can never write him off. Of course, he is 37 years old, it’s going to be tougher for him with every year. But you should never write him off in my opinion,” he added.