Appalling neglect

Singles champions Prerna Bhambri and Mohit Mayur with their trophies at the DTLA Complex.-R.V. MOORTHY

The reluctance of players to participate in the National Championship is disturbing, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

While the absence of nearly two dozen leading players (based on their ATP rankings) was quite glaring at the National Championship, the country’s premier domestic event, the refusal to provide a wild card for the 15-year-old Asian junior champion, Snehadevi Reddy, in the women’s event, was shocking.

Definitely, the pride associated with the National Championship was missing. The DCM Shriram Group (DSCL), which organised the event, spending a lot of money in branding Fenesta, did try to make the Nationals memorable, but “corporate governance” is no remedy for the ills of Indian tennis.

Players already crowned National champions skipping the event in order to play professional tournaments around the world was understandable, but it was disturbing to note that many who have not won the national crown did not show any inclination to play in the championship. Winning the National Championship does not seem to be attractive anymore and the event means nothing to many players.

Earlier, a wild card used to be given for the ATP Chennai Open and the WTA events, and this made the National Championship quite attractive. Now without that, the winner’s cheque of Rs.1.5 lakh — which is equal now for both men and women on Sania Mirza’s suggestion last year — was not quite attractive. It will be very difficult to force the players to compete in the Nationals by saying that it would make them eligible for selection for the Davis Cup and Fed Cup, as it would be unfair on leading professionals like Somdev Devvarman.

The best way out is to have good prize money, and add to it excellent hospitality, Tour grant etc. to ensure better participation in the championship.

At the end of the two-week event, the president of the All India Tennis Association (AITA), Anil Khanna, in a fervent speech, advised the young players not to listen to any advice that asked them not to represent the country. He also revealed that the Indian team for the Asian Youth Games was depleted as two leading players had refused to play.

Hardeep Singh Sandhu... champion in the boys under-18 section.-R.V. MOORTHY

The ongoing imbroglio between the AITA and the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA) with regard to the ‘sanctioning fee’ for the Chennai Open seemed to be the main reason for Snehadevi being refused a wild card. However, there must be more to it than what meets the eye.

In the event, Snehadevi showed her class by first downing Bhuvana Kalva, who had recently won the singles title in a $10,000 ITF women’s tournament at the same venue in Delhi. Snehadevi eventually lost in the quarterfinals of the women’s event to Sai Samhitha, who went on to win the girls under-18 title.

Snehadevi herself had beaten the Asian junior champion and National women’s champion Rutuja Bhosale in an ITF junior tournament for the loss of one game last year. Hence, such titles do not mean much beyond a point.

While Prerna Bhambri regrouped to defend the women’s crown in a relatively strong field that had many good players including the former National champion Rushmi Chakravarthi, who won the doubles title with Shweta Rana, it was mission accomplished for the bespectacled Mohit Mayur, who has a big game in the men’s section.

The 20-year-old Chennai lad, who overcame a humble background to train in Spain with the support of the TNTA, capitalised on the guidance of the Davis Cup coach, Nandan Bal. With a big serve and a good forehand, Mohit should be able to scale greater heights if he tunes his approach.

While Arjung Kadhe, runner-up for the second time, disappointed a bit by not being at his best in the title clash, the former champion Nitten Kirrtane, who had won the last of his three National singles titles in 2000, impressed with his form and fitness by stretching the eventual champion to three sets in the semi-finals.

Sai Samhitha... winner of the girls under-18 title.-R.V. MOORTHY

The top-seeded Shweta Rana finished runner-up. The 20-year-old Delhi girl, coached by Todd Clark and supported by Amira Foods, found Prerna a tough nut to crack in the final in which fortunes swung quite dramatically.

They may not be the best players in the country, but there was no doubt that Mohit Mayur and Prerna Bhambri were the best players in the field in the National Championship, which once again proved an excellent platform for the youngsters to showcase their talent.

It is futile to look for solutions to all the problems ailing Indian tennis in the National Championship. There has to be a strong domestic circuit culminating in the National Championship, and the national federation needs to take care of the players a lot better to win their confidence and wholehearted participation.

In an expensive game like tennis, there are tournaments at home for men and women that offer Rs.50,000 as total prize money. No wonder then the players keep themselves busy in the international circuit and try to make it to the Grand Slam events. For instance, even a first round defeat in Wimbledon offers the players about Rs.23 lakh!

So, you cannot blame the players for ignoring the National Championship and instead opting to play in the international tournaments.

THE RESULTS All finals

Men: Mohit Mayur beat Arjun Kadhe 6-3, 6-1; Doubles: Arjun Kadhe & Mohit Mayur beat P. C. Vignesh & Fariz Mohammad 6-4, 6-4.

Women: Prerna Bhambri beat Shweta Rana 7-5, 6-2; Doubles: Rushmi Chakravarthi & Shweta Rana beat Sharmada Balu & Prerna Bhambri 6-4, 7-5.

Boys under-18: Hardeep Singh Sandhu beat Mukund Sasikumar 7-6 (3), 6-4; Doubles: Deepak Vishwakarma & Aditya Deswal beat Alex Solanki & B. R. Nikshep 6-3, 6-4.

Girls under-18: Sai Samhitha beat Simran Kaur Sethi 5-7, 6-3, 6-2; Doubles: Snehal Mane & Nandini Sharma beat Vanshika Sawhney & Himani Mor 6-0, 4-6, 10-7.

Boys under-16: B. R. Nikshep beat Udayan Bhakar 4-6, 6-4, 6-3; Doubles: B. R. Nikshep & Alex Solanki beat Sanil Jagtiani & Parikshit Somani 6-4, 6-2.

Girls under-16: Vanshika Sawhney beat Ramya Natarajan 7-5, 6-2; Doubles: Vanshika Sawhney & Himani Mor beat R. Abinikka & Isha Budwal 6-2, 7-5.

Boys under-14: Nitin Kumar Sinha beat Yugal Bansal 6-3, 6-2; Doubles: Gurjot Singh & Mritunjay Badola beat Himanshu Mor & Kabir Manrai 6-1, 6-1.

Girls under-14: Mihika Yadav beat Ramya Natarajan 6-3, 6-2; Doubles: Sarah Dev & Prinkle Singh beat Harsha Sai Challa & Sathwika Sama 6-3, 2-6, 10-7.