Desperate to raise the profile of the National Championships, the All India Tennis Association will recommend the country’s top players to compete in the event, but it is highly unlikely they would pay heed to it since the federation is willing to exempt the “established” players, reported PTI.

The AITA issued an advisory on August 31, saying that it is now mandatory for the players to participate in the nationals to not only become eligible for the government grants but also for getting picked in the Indian team, unless exempted by the federation.

The move has come after the Sports Ministry made enquiries about the nationals from the AITA and got to know that only the second rung players compete in the tournament. It is learnt that the ministry, despite not making it mandatory for the players, has indicated that it would like to see participation of the best players.

Participation of top players equals to financial assistance

AITA contends that if top players come and play the nationals it will become easier for the federation to get financial assistance from the government for the players.

“The nationals are now mostly played by the country’s second rung players. We have to enhance the status of the national championships, so all the players now will be asked to play the nationals. It will then be easy for AITA to push for financial assistance for the national champion,” AITA Secretary General Hiornmoy Chatterjee said.

“But it’s entirely up to the players. The established players can skip. There will be incentives for the nationals winners like wild cards in the main draw of international events. It’s up to them, if they want to avail these incentives,” he added.

Unless AITA makes it compulsory, players such as Yuki Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Rohan Bopanna or Ankita Raina won’t come despite the fact that winning the national championship now is lucrative.

The national champion gets Rs 5 lakh from the organisers and Rs 5 lakh as grant from the government. When calculated together, Rs 10 lakh is two times more than what a player gets after winning a $50,000 ATP Challenger, where the title winner gets $7200 (Rs 4.5 lakh).

The winner of $75,000 Challenger pockets around Rs 7 lakh and the winner of $100,000 Challenger event gets close to Rs 9.21 lakh.

It is suggested that devoting a week for nationals for the players may not be a bad idea for the top-rung players, who otherwise struggle for funds.

It is only at the national tennis championships where the top players opt not to turn up. Top boxers, wrestlers, shuttlers and shooters all play in their national events. Vijender Singh, who won a bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games, even competed at events such as Inter-police till 2011.

Boxer L Devendro Singh, a silver medallist at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, till recently, competed in the Inter-Services and Inter-Railways tournaments apart from the nationals. So is the case with Olympic medallist rifle shooter Gagan Narang.

‘Grants and facilities can’t go together,’ says Centre

There is a feeling among officials in the federation that even if players have to sacrifice 3-4 weeks a year for the country, it’s not a bad idea. “If they are willing to receive financial assistance from the government, then they should happily agree to play for country a few weeks.

It won’t make much of difference to play a week at the nationals and play Davis Cup three weeks a year. So, if they have to devote a few days for the game’s good, what’s the harm?,” an AITA official said.

A former national champion even advised that now since Rs 10 lakh is on offer for the national champions, the semi-finals and the title clashes of men’s and women’s should be made a best-of-five sets contest.

It has also been learnt that the sports ministry will not entertain individual applications for grants from tennis players and soon all their needs will be linked with the High Performance Tennis Centre, which is likely to come up at the DLTA complex in Delhi by the end of December or early 2018.

However, schemes such as Target Olympic Podium Scheme and National Sports Development Fund remain separate. Leading doubles players such as Leander Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza have received funds for their training from TOPS.

Last year, Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni and the now-retired Somdev Devvarman were sanctioned financial assistance to the tune of Rs 30 lakh from the National Sports Development Fund. “The government says that grants and facilities cannot go together. Now, our top players’ needs such as requirement of physios and coaching will all be taken care of by the Centre. So, there will be no separate grants for the players,” Chatterjee said.

“A pool of players will be created and their performance will be monitored by the Centre. All probables (for CWG, Asian Games) will be able to use the facilities at the Centre,” he added.

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