AITA wants top players for Nationals but won't force themAITA 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.
Desperate to raise the profile of the National Championships, the AITA 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.
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 enquired about the nationals from the All India Tennis Association (AITA) and got to know that only the second rung players compete in the annual tournament.
The ministry has not exactly directed the AITA to ensure participation of top players but has indicated that it would like to see the participation of the best players.
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," said AITA Secretary General Hiornmoy Chatterjee.
"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 a grant from the government. When calculated together, Rs 10 lakh is two times more than what a player gets after winning a USD 50,000 ATP Challenger, where the title winner gets USD 7200 (approx Rs 4.5 lakh).
The winner of USD 75,000 Challenger gets approx seven lakh and the winner of USD 100,000 Challenger event gets close to 9.21 lakh.
So it's not a bad option devoting a week for nationals for the players, who otherwise struggle for funds. Of course, there are no ranking points but this kind of money can sort out travel plans for at least half the season.
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.
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 a 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 to the game's good, what's the harm," said an AITA official.
A former national champion even advised that now since Rs 10 lakh is on offer for the national champions, the semifinals and the title clashes of men's and women's should be made best of five sets.
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 by the end of December or in early 2018.
However, schemes such as Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) and National Sports Development Fund (NSDF) 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, Myneni and the now-retired Somdev Devvarman have sanctioned financial assistance to the tune of Rs 30 lakh from the NSDF.
"The government says that grants and facilities cannot go together. Now our top players' needs such as the 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 confirmed.
"A pool of players will be created and their performance will be monitored by the Centre. All probable (for CWG, Asian Games) will be able to use the facilities at the Centre," Chatterjee said.
However, if competing at the nationals is not compulsory to get grants and utilise facilities at the Centre, then AITA must not hope to see top players in the draw in the event, starting October 2.