Why the top ones stay away

Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, the men’s title winner.-SANDEEP SAXENA

There is a lot of potential in Indian tennis, and the coaches need to find the way to take the aspiring young players forward, writes KAMESH SRINIVASAN after watching the National championships.

It is a debate that has been raging for quite some time. Should the best players of the country be forced to compete in the National championships?

Many disciplines, like shooting, have made it mandatory for players to take part in the National championship to be eligible to represent the country in international competitions.

Though there may be a valid argument, it will be difficult to enforce such a ruling in tennis as the players, busy in the professional circuit, may have to compromise on their international career to compete below their level.

International tennis is quite demanding, though it may be really rewarding. So, when you are used to fighting at a higher level, you not only step down from your high standard but also take a huge pay cut, just to prove something which your international ranking has already showed to the world.

Moreover, federations do not plan their domestic calendars or the national championships so as to give a chance for the best players to contemplate participation. In fact, when the Fenesta National tennis championship was being played in Delhi, the best of Indian players were busy with the $100,000 Challenger tournament in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

In tennis, the players are always trying to push up their rankings, by competing around the world, week in and week out, so as to gain entry into the Grand Slams, be it in singles or doubles. In Grand Slam singles, the first round loser is assured of an amount that is almost ten times that of the winner of the National championship.

Quite naturally, the players are keen to remain in the higher echelons of the game, rather than compromise. Actually, the National championship is just a stepping stone for the bigger league. You assert your ability in the National championship early in your career, possibly with a title, and jump fully into the international circuit.

The leading Indian men like Yuki Bhambri, Vishnu Vardhan, Sriram Balaji, Saketh Myneni, Sanam Singh and Somdev Devvarman, apart from the doubles exponents, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna, Divij Sharan and Purav Raja, had no purpose to compete in the National championship. They had nothing to prove. Most of them had left their mark on the event and moved on.

In such a scenario, it suited Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan, a talented left-hander who had also won international titles at the ITF $10,000 circuit, to try and add the label of the National champion to his collection. He was clinical with his game, and a notch above the rest, though the 18-year-old Arjun Khade, the country’s leading junior, was able to emphasise his all-round game for at least one set in the final.

There were a clutch of talented players like R. Ramkumar and Mohit Mayur — supported by the Tamil Nadu Tennis Association (TNTA) with regular training in Europe — who were able to give a glimpse of their enormous potential.

In contrast, the Indian girls have been struggling to emulate the phenomenal growth of Sania Mirza. The fact that most of the girls made it a point to compete in the National championship was a clear indication that the girls and their coaches have a lot of work to do, to break into the top-200 in the world.

In fact, Sania spoke to the Chairman and Managing Director of DSCL, Ajay Shriram, the organiser of the championship, for equal prize money for women, before the prize giving away function. Thus, the women’s champion was also awarded Rs.1,50,000, the same as the men’s champion, and the runner-up, Rs.1,00,000. However, the women were not able to justify the reward with a high standard of tennis.

Prerna Bhambri, who has won two ITF women’s titles, saved matchpoints against her friend and doubles partner Rishika Sunkara to add another feather to her cap. The quality of tennis did not rise to expected levels of intensity as the two, trained by coach Aditya Sachdeva, knew each other’s game very well. Of course, there was no doubt that both the girls were capable of a high standard of play, but chose to be defensive or erratic!

Rutuja Bhosale, the 15-year-old from Pune, had asserted herself in the last edition by clinching the title. She moved on to the Indian team, and opted to stay out of this year’s competition.

There were quite a few juniors who caught the eye in the fortnight-long championship that is conducted with so much pride, as a domestic Grand Slam. The 13-year-old Pranjala Yadlapalli won the girls’ under-18 crown, and almost closed the door on the favourite Snehadevi Reddy in the under-16 title battle before the latter bounced back to clinch the honour. Garvit Batra and B. R. Nikshep won the under-16 and under-14 boys’ titles, while the top-seeded Rishabh Aggarwal claimed the under-18 crown.

vanshika Sawhney, Himani Mor, Sruta Kirti Gunuganti and Mihika Yadav showed the sparks which if ignited into a fire by competent coaching and guidance, may help them step into the international circuit with poise and purpose.

For sure, there is a lot of potential in Indian tennis, and the coaches need to find the way to take the aspiring young players forward, rather than keep finding fault with their wards!

THE RESULTS All finals:

Men: Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan bt. Arjun Khade 7-6 (4), 6-1. Doubles: Mohit Mayur and R. Ramkumar bt. Kaza Vinayak Sharma and Vivek Shokeen 5-7, 7-6 (5), 10-3.

Women: Prerna Bhambri bt. Rishika Sunkara 2-6, 7-6 (7), 4-1 (retired). Doubles: Treta Bhattacharya and Natasha Palha bt. Prerna Bhambri and Rishika Sunkara 6-4, 0-6, 10-7.

Under-18 boys: Rishabh Aggarwal bt. Karan Salwan 6-1, 6-2. Doubles: Anvit Bendre and Shaikh Abdullah bt. Shailender Boniface and Garry Tokas 6-4, 6-0.

Under-18 girls: PranjalaYadlapalli bt. Tarrannum Handa 6-7 (8), 6-0, 7-5. Doubles: Himani Mor and Vanshika Sawhney bt. Jahnavi Gupta and Vineeta Singh 6-2, 6-3.

Under-16 boys: Garvit Batra bt. Shashank Nautiyal 7-5, 4-6, 6-2. Doubles: Vishu Prasad and Deepak Vishvakarma bt. Tejas Kapoor and Raswant Ravi 6-3, 6-4.

Under-16 girls: Snehadevi Reddy bt. Pranjala Yadlapalli 2-6, 6-4, 6-1. Doubles: Himani Mor and Vanshika Sawhney bt. Jahnavi Gupta and Vineeta Singh 6-2, 7-5.

Under-14 boys: B. R. Nikshep bt. Sanil Jagtiani 6-1, 6-0. Doubles: Nitin Sinha and Vikash Singh bt. Shramay Dhawan and Sumit Singh 6-4, 7-6 (3).

Under-14 girls: Vanshika Sawhney bt. Mihika Yadav 6-4, 7-6 (4). Doubles: Nandini Sharma and Mihika Yadav bt. Zeel Desai and Snehal Mane 7-6 (2), 6-2.