Paes remembers learning to play in ravaged area

Updated: January 3, 2005, 4:21 PM ET news services

MADRAS, India -- Players will have the victims of last week's devastating tsunami, rather than their own success, uppermost in their minds at one of the first ATP tournaments of 2005, which started in this southern Indian city Monday.

Tsunami (India)
APFishing boats sit on piers after they were washed ashore by tsunami at Kasimed area of Madras, India.

More than 139,000 people died when the killer waves struck the coasts in south and east Asia, sweeping away fishermen and hundreds of foreign tourists, in the wake of a massive undersea earthquake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

With death tolls expected to rise to 150,000, Indonesia, Thailand and Sri Lanka are reeling having borne the brunt of the disaster. In India, nearly 15,000 people are dead or missing, while many others were rendered homeless, most of them along the coast of the southern Tamil Nadu state, whose capital city is Madras.

Over 200 died along the city's famous Marina beach, barely a few minutes drive from the tennis stadium.

There were initially some doubts whether the tournament would be staged because of the tragedy before it was decided to go ahead with the event.

The players have decided to donate their earnings at the tournament for the relief of the tsunami victims. International Management Group, who owns the event, also held a charity auction on Sunday night, raising $22,200 for the cause.

Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman and his doubles partner, India's Mahesh Bhupathi, were the first to announce their decision to donate their winnings in the $400,000 Chennai Open, along with Indian Davis Cup star Leander Paes, who pledged his support.

"I'm going to be playing this whole week for the cause of the Tsunami victims," said Paes, who learnt his early game in Madras for five years.

"I'll be playing for all those people who were tragically and unexpectedly killed at the very same Marina beach where I used to train four times a week as a boy."

Paes said he wanted to do his bit for the thousands of children who lost their parents.

"Needless to say, all the proceeds I earn this week will go towards them. I've always worked with children."

Information from Reuters and The Associated Press was used in this report.