Ankita Raina, one of the top woman players in the country, has not been included in the TOPS scheme. (Image credit: Twitter)
The national tennis federation has not sought re-inclusion of country's top singles players in the TOP Scheme since the Asian Games and even doubles specialists, Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan, run the risk of missing out on funding following their split. At the moment, 71 athletes across disciplines are getting financial support through Target Olympic Podium Scheme (TOPS) and Bopanna and Sharan are the only tennis players in the list. They had joined forces at the beginning of the season, keeping in mind Tokyo Olympics, but patchy results forced them to look for different partners. Now the government has asked All India Tennis Association (AITA) to explain the split and the federation in return has asked Bopanna to justify the decision. Country's top singles players -- Prajnesh Gunneswaran and Ankita Raina -- are not part of TOPS as their names were struck off after the Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games, where they won a bronze medal each.
Interestingly, the AITA has not taken any initiative to push for re-inclusion of top players. "The names are already with the government. The government has not called us for any discussion after the Asian Games and we can't force the government to include anyone in TOPS," said AITA secretary General Hironmoy Chatterjee. Prajnesh, Yuki Bhambri, Ramkumar Ramanathan, Ankita, Karman Kaur Thandi and Prarthana Thombare figured in the list before the 2018 Asian Games but only Bopanna and Sharan were kept after the Games. "We had given names of all our top players but they have not asked for any discussion after the Asian Games. Even if AITA gives names, the TOPS committee will only go by the assessment of its consultants when it reviews the list," added Chatterjee.
However, it was AITA which had convinced the TOPS committee to include Ankita in the list last year when she was ignored by national observer Somdev Devvarman. Commander Rajesh Rajagopalan, Chief Executive Officer of TOPS, countered the AITA claim by saying that NSFs on their own also can put forward names for discussion.
"TOPS selects athletes who have the potential to achieve a podium finish at Olympics. Secondly, not only the Committee but the Federations also can propose (names) on their own, which would then be analysed for performance and presented to the committee," Rajagopalan told PTI. Talking about government seeking an explanation on Bopanna-Sharan split, possibly to reconsider TOPS funding to them, Chatterjee said they have asked Bopanna to respond.
"We will forward to the government whatever Rohan will write to us. It's a professional decision by the players and we don't interfere with that. Maybe Rohan thinks that his ranking can get better if he plays with some other player. But they may play together again before the Tokyo Games and that should be good enough," said Chatterjee.
Bopanna (ranked 40) and Sharan (ranked 41) began the partnership with a bang by winning the season-opening Tata Open Maharashtra in Pune but suffered four first-round defeats after that. With their combined ranking of 81, it is difficult to enter into big tournaments as a team and perhaps that formed basis for their split. Bopanna is now playing with Briton world number 28 Dominic Inglot while Sharan has teamed up with world number 57 Marcelo Demoliner from Brazil. Neither Bopanna nor Sharan could be reached for their comments. If they are also removed from the list, there will be no tennis player left in the TOPS list.
India's Davis Cup Captain Mahesh Bhupathi feels that Prajnesh should be supported now that he has broken the top-100 barrier. In a remarkable upward journey in the last 18 months, Prajnesh has risen to 75 in the world to be the sixth best Indian ever in singles ranking. "It will be good if Prajnesh gets into the TOP scheme. He has worked very hard and has broken into the top-100. He definitely deserves all the support he can get," Bhupathi, the winner of 12 Grand Slam titles, told PTI. India's Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali said not only Prajnesh but Ankita and Yuki should also get TOPS support.