National Championship: The country's top event without its top players

Nobody is questioning the quality of the men's and women's top seeds — Suraj Prabodh and Zeel Desai — but the absence of top players is quite stark this time.

Zeel Desai, the top seed, will start as the favourite at the National Championship.   -  M. Moorthy

It will be a golden opportunity for the next generation to strike it rich in the Fenesta National tennis championship that begins at the DLTA Complex here on Monday.

The fact that Suraj Prabodh and Zeel Desai have been given the No.1 seeding in the men’s and women’s sections says a lot about the quality of the field.

Nobody is questioning the quality of the men's and women's top seeds — Suraj Prabodh and Zeel Desai — but the absence of top players is quite stark this time.

With two-time champion Vishnu Vardhan also opting to focus on the Challenger in Chinese Taipei — understandably so — the stage will be left for the young ones, and some former champions like Nitten Kirrtane, Mohit Mayur and Vijay Kannan to thrive.

"I am a huge fan of the Nationals and I might be one of the players in the top 5 or 6 of the rankings who has played the nationals most number of times. But, this year due to the Asian Indoor Games, I have lost almost a month of competing in the professional the circuit and cannot afford to lose more," said Vishnu.

Vijay had made the national grass court final last time. Nitten is getting better with age and Mohit is regaining his confidence after mysteriously losing his way.

Behind Suraj Prabodh, it will be Haadin Bava, Kunal Anand, Dalwinder Singh, S. D. Prajwal Dev, Jatin Dahiya, Nitten and Faisal Qamar as the seeded players. If most of the names do not ring a bell, it is not anyone’s fault.

Similarly, in the women’s section, Zeel Desai is the only player from the top-10. Emerging from the junior ranks, Zeel has won an ITF event, and will start as the favourite. She is followed by former finalists Sai Samhitha and Shweta Rana, apart from Nithya Raj, Mahak Jain, four-time champion Prerna Bhambri, Mihika Yadav, Sara Yadav, Snehadevi Reddy and Bhuvana Kalva.

Since the top two players in the men’s and women’s singles events get Rs. 10 lakh of the prize money, it is not that rewarding for the rest. That is one major discouraging factor for players, who'd rather participate in international events.

But rather than ruing the absence of top players, which has become a regular exercise in recent times, the national championship deserves to be celebrated for its sheer existence. The organisers deserve all the appreciation for sticking it out through the years and making the event as interesting as possible for most, particularly the future champions.

It is difficult to have one great
week of domestic tennis, when the focus throughout the year is purely on international tennis. The players spend a fortune, travelling around the world, trying to improve their status on the ATP and WTA computers.

A sudden spurt of impressive prize money does not distract the players from their often unrewarding pursuit in the higher echelons of the game.

As former champion Purav Raja pointed out, there has to be a structure in place, and the national championship, suitably planned, should figure in the centre of it to make it competitive.

It is ironical that the travails of Indian tennis come to the fore only when the best event in the country springs into action. But that is the harsh reality the organisers have mastered to endure.

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