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Tennis has hit the limelight of Indian Sport yet again. India’s Tennis fans would have hoped it would have been for positive reasons but, sadly, that’s not the case. If you’ve not been following the developments then here you go: Leander Paes qualified for the Olympics thanks to his number 7 ranking with partner Radek Stepanek. All India Tennis Association (AITA) after discussions with Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna, who play together on the ATP Tour, decided to name Bhupathi as Leander’s partner for the Olympics. This didn’t go down well with Bhupathi who had paired with Leander in the past but the pair had grown apart despite playing together for the country at the Commonwealth Games in 2010. Both Bopanna and Bhupathi stuck to their guns and declined from partnering Leander Paes to the Olympics and cited Paes’ influence within AITA as the problem.
Leander Paes will be playing his sixth Olympics in London, thereby becoming the first Tennis player to do so. His chances and hopes of winning a medal may go down now that he would most certainly be paired with a youngster in the form of either Vishnu Vardhan (207 in the world) or Yuki Bhambri (ranked 306). Yuki Bhambri spoke out against Leander in an interview reminding Paes of where his Olympic dream started from. He said,
It’s unfortunate that there is a rift that nobody really wanted. It’s a whole new experience of playing in the Olympics. Leander was 19 when Ramesh Krishnan took him under his wings and that’s how he played in the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. Will he consider it as a mistake? It is time for him to give something back to tennis. There is no better platform.
Yuki may have shot himself in the foot by slamming Indian Tennis’ “prodigal son” which makes Vishnu the one with better chances of flying to London.
AITA made another error in judgement when they announced Sania Mirza would be paired with Leander Paes at the Olympics despite Sania pairing up with Bhupathi in recent tournaments including the French Open where they lifted the trophy. In that case, why did AITA name Paes to partner Mirza and break an already set combination? To make matters even worse, Leander’s father Dr. Vece Paes asked Sania to provide in writing that she would partner Leander in London.
During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, Mahesh Bhupathi was the one with top ranking and he didn’t get to choose his partner. Paes was his partner then and they lost to eventual gold medalists Roger Federer and Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarter-finals. Point is, Bhupathi didn’t get to choose his partner then and Paes shouldn’t get to choose his partner now.
Selector Rohit Rajpal has travelled to London to pacify Leander and reach some sort of understanding with Paes threatening to pull out from the Olympics.
Things will get even messier now that Sania has been handed a wildcard by International Tennis Federation (ITF) to play at the London Olympics. She had stayed quiet up until last night when the news of her wildcard entry came through. She wasted no opportunity in blasting the top brass at AITA along with Paes. She even called out Bhupathi for not sticking by her.
Excerpts from her statement:
Since the day AITA announced the team for the Olympics a lot of questions have been raised by friends, colleagues, their parents and of course, by the media. As I thought these questions were purely hypothetical without my having qualified into the London Olympics, I did not think it was appropriate for me to respond to them at that point of time. However, now that I am officially a part of the greatest sporting event in the world, I think it is imperative for me to clarify my feelings.
To Dr. Vece Paes, who has on camera asked me to give in writing about my intention of partnering his son for the mixed doubles event at the Olympics, I would like to point out that my commitment is to my country. For the sake of India I am committed to play with Leander Paes or Mahesh Bhupathi or Rohan Bopanna or Somdev Devvarman or Vishnu Vardhan or any other person that my country feels I am good enough to partner. There should never ever be a question on this although if asked, I am entitled to have my preferences. I will do everything I possibly can to win a medal for India.
To Leander Paes I would like to point out that Vishnu Vardhan is an extremely talented player, who I had the privilege of partnering. We went on to win a silver medal for India at the 2010 Asian Games, when all the three male stalwarts of Indian tennis had opted to stay away from Guangzhou. I am convinced that he can go one better when pitted with someone as good as Leander as partner. For Leander to consider partnering with Vishnu only if he has a written assurance from me to play mixed (as Vece Uncle has suggested in his television interviews) is, I think demeaning for me, Vishnu and Leander Paes.
Mahesh Bhupathi has firmly stood by his commitment to play together with his men’s doubles partner, Rohan Bopanna as he genuinely believed it was good for India. However, in the process, he sacrificed the commitment he made to me to try and win an Olympic medal together for India.
As an Indian woman belonging to the 21st century, what I find disillusioning is the humiliating manner in which I was put up as a bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis. While I feel honoured and privileged to have been chosen to partner Leander Paes, the manner and timing of the announcement reeks of male chauvinism where a two time Grand Slam champion, who has been India’s number 1 women’s tennis player for almost a decade in singles and doubles is offered in compensation to partner one of the feuding champions purely in order to lure him into accepting to play with a men’s player he does not wish to play with! This kind of blatant humiliation of Indian womanhood needs to be condemned even if it comes from the highest controlling body of tennis in our country.
(Source: Times of India)
It is disappointing to see senior player in Paes caring more about his personal record and putting his personal interests before national pride and chances for India to win a medal. AITA made many errors in the selection process which they shouldn’t have. The national body gave in to Leander Paes’ demands over what is in the best interests of the nation. Is Paes alone to blame in this? I don’t think so. AITA will have to share blame for the mess that has been created. In the end it is hoped that sense prevails and two teams are sent for men’s doubles (Leander Paes and a youngster along with Bhupathi Bopanna) along with Bhupathi/Mirza in mixed doubles as that’s the best combination for the country to win a medal.