By Shehan Daniel
Sri Lanka’s top Women’s tennis player could be a glaring omission from the National Team for the upcoming Fed Cup Tournament, after the selectors were asked to make a ‘compromise’ to the national selection criteria.
Anika Seneviratne, still just 17 years old, rose to the top of the Women’s Rankings this week after winning the Clay court Nationals – not a new feat for the youngster who has held the top ranking consistency over the two years.
The existing selection criteria would have exempted players who have won National titles, tournaments with Grade One status, from playing trial matches when making selections for international tournaments.
This criteria was decided on in December 2018 and came into effect from April 1 this year.
However, as the former Chairman of the National Tennis Selection Committee Arjun Fernando confirmed to the Daily Mirror, the committee was forced to seek a compromise after a few parents had complained to the Sports Minister against this criteria.
It is understood that among those who made this petition to the Sports Minister, in late April were the parents of two players who had held the top two positions in the national rankings at the time.
“Under the new selection criteria, Anika would have received direct consideration, because she had won two of the three Grade One Tournaments last year,” Fernando said, however adding, “naturally there were parents who were not happy with this criteria change, and they met the Sports Minister. The Sports Minister asked for us to come to a compromise and take a decision acceptable to all parties involved, so we decided that the selection for Fed Cup would be based purely on a four-staged tiered-trial process, which we began in early May,” Fernando said.
This tiered trial process involves the top eight ranked players. At the first stage, the three lowest ranked players would play in a round-robin format, with the winner progressing up to the next tier where she would face two higher ranked players. The three players who were in the final stage would then be considered for the singles team for the Fed Cup.
“We understand that Anika is one of our best players and that this compromise affected her because under the selection policy (effective April 1) she would have been in the Fed Cup team. That is why, even though she was ranked sixth at the time and would have had to play from the first stage of the trial-process, we decided we would allow her to come in at the final stage. However, she chose not to play and since we had decided to make this the one and only criteria for Fed Cup selection, she was not considered,” Fernando said.
Seneviratne ultimately did not take part in the trials and the selectors, whose term ended on May 15, instead nominated Savini Jayasuriya, Anjelika Kurera and Rukshika Wijesooriya to form the singles team.
“We called for a doubles trial with three combinations, and Anika and her sister, who are the best doubles players in the country opted not to take part in it. So the two remaining combinations played and we picked Savini and Oneli. But since Savini was already in the singles team, we decided to include Anika instead because she was ranked sixth when the trial-process began,” Fernando told the Daily Mirror.
The Daily Mirror learns that the names of the squad have been made public, even before being approved by the Sports Minister and a source alleged that air tickets had already been purchased for the players even though the names have not been formally ratified by the Minister.
Anika’s father, Asanga Seneviratne meanwhile, has contended that the decision to choose the Fed Cup Team solely on the tied-trials basis was unfair, adding that he had written to the Sports Minister about the multiple changes to the national selection process.
“Since the start of the year there have been different selection criteria and I have written to the Sports Minister about this,” he said.
“Anika has been winning Grade ‘A’ Tournaments and on some occasions easily beaten some of the players who are named in the team,” Senevirate said arguing that this validated her place in the team.
The decision now remains with the Sports Minister, and the Daily Mirror learns that a decision could be made today on the final composition of the team.
The fact that, even with a pre-determined selection process in place, a compromise was made at the behest of just a few parents has now put the sport in disarray and now could potentially cost Sri Lanka on the international stage.