PUNE: Indian star Yuki Bhambri and the last edition's semifinalist Elias Ymer will be the top contenders in a highly-competitive field for the singles qualifiers of the fifth edition of the Tata Open Maharashtra tennis tournament.
The Tata Open Maharashtra will be conducted by the Maharashtra State Lawn Tennis Association (MSLTA) for the fifth year in Pune, scheduled at the Balewadi Stadium from December 31 to January 7.
The qualifiers will be held from December 31 and will involve some strong players with the cut-off standing at a stiff ranking of 243.
With South Asia's only ATP 250 event returning to the opening week of the calendar, Bhambri made the cut into the qualifiers based on his protected rankings of 127, the organisers informed in a release on Thursday.
The former junior world number one, Bhambri staged an impressive comeback last year in the Tata Open Maharashtra from an injury that kept him away from the action for two years. His challenge was halted in the pre-quarterfinals.
"It's always good to see an Indian name in the line-up because that's our main objective of conducting such a big tournament-to inspire and increase Indian participation. As organisers, we are also delighted to see strong foreign names in the qualifiers similar to what we saw earlier in the main draw. The special fifth edition is going to be exciting," said Prashant Sutar, Tournament Director of Tata Open Maharashtra.
MSLTA will host the tournament, which is sponsored by Tata Group, in association with the Government of Maharashtra.
The 26-year-old Ymer was also on a roll in the last edition where he put up solid performances which included a victory against the top-seed and then World No. 15 Aslan Karatsev in straight sets in the Round of 16.
"Having a strong field always results in highly competitive games and that attracts more fans. Last year Ymer caught many eyeballs with his sensational performances and journey from being a qualifier to reaching the semifinals, said Sunder Iyer, the Joint Secretary of All India Tennis Association and Secretary of MSLTA.
"This year's line-up looks equally strong and it's going to be an entertaining week for the fans as well as for the upcoming players who will get to watch the world's best players live in action," Iyer was quoted as saying in a release.
Besides Ymer, American Christopher Eubanks and the former World No. 39 Peter Gojowczyk are the key attractions among international stars.
The former Grand Slam champion Marin Cilic and the last edition's runner-up Emil Ruusuvuori are among the 17 Top-100 players to feature in the singles main draw, which will be played from January 2-7.
The qualifiers event will witness 16 players, including two wild card entrants, fighting for four main draw spots.