After six days of drama, the All India Tennis Association's on Thursday decided to send two men's doubles teams for the London Olympics, and paired Leander Paes with Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles.
As per the arrangement, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna will get to partner each other in the Games and Paes will play with lower-ranked Vishnu Vardhan. However, the revised combination has not gone well with Paes, who is said to have conveyed his displeasure to AITA, with a lingering threat of pullout.
"We have spoken to Leander and he is understandably disturbed. But we hope he will come around," AITA president Anil Khanna told reporters on Thursday. It’s learned that Paes was not convinced whether Sania would agree to partner him in the mixed doubles and even asked for an assurance from her. Khanna said: "Sania is no one to give assurance. We have the approval of IOA, and we can assure Leander that she will partner him."
Earlier, Khanna announced the final teams moments before sending their nominations to the International Tennis Federation (ITF) as Thursday was the last day to submit the entries. While calling the decision “unfair” to Paes, Khanna hoped it will be “graciously” accepted by all.
“In the given circumstances, the best option before the AITA is to send two pairs. We are fully aware that Leander, our great tennis player and undoubtedly the most patriotic one, had been driven to the wall and had to react sharply yesterday much against his true character.”
“The AITA agrees this decision is unfair to India No 1 and world No 7 player Leander.
AITA holds Leander in very high esteem and appeals to him to accept this decision in the best interest of the nation. We are confident that Leander will not disappoint us, as he has done yeoman service to the nation over the last 25 years.”
Khanna, though, said the decision to team Bhupathi and Bopanna may not be the best one. “AITA admits that the decision of pairing Mahesh with Rohan on tennis grounds alone may not be the best. However, in the given circumstances, this is the most appropriate decision.”
Khanna also hoped that by reconciling Paes would give Vardhan and Bopanna an opportunity to play in their maiden Olympics. "AITA does not want Leander's image to be tarnished. AITA asks Leander to forgive the utterances (against him by Bhupathi and Bopanna).”
As a compromise, Paes will get to partner Sania in the mixed doubles, provided she gets a wildcard. However, it is no secret that Sania wishes to partner Bhupathi. The day started with an urgent meeting between External Affairs minister and AITA's honorary lifetime president SM Krishna and Sports minister Ajay Maken. It’s understood that Krishna advocated Bhupathi-Bopanna pairing after AITA tried to convince Bopanna and Bhupathi till the last minute. After they refused, they zeroed in on Vardhan on the basis of his recent form. He has won two medals in the Guangzhou Asian Games-- a silver in mixed doubles with Sania and bronze in the men's team event.
Bhupathi and Bopanna relayed satisfaction. “We are delighted to have been nominated as a team to the men's doubles event at the Games. The events of the last few days have been extremely challenging for all concerned, but we respect them as necessary steps in this process,“ they said. The AITA's change of stand did not go too well with the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) acting president VK Malhotra.
“It is not right that AITA changed their team combination on the last day. They should have taken us into confidence. It will set a wrong precedent. (Leander) Paes is our top doubles player and what chance will he have with a rookie.”
AITA decision unfair, says Vece Paes
Olympian Vece Paes termed AITA’s decision to pair Leander Paes with lower-ranked Vishnu Vardhan as unfair and said his son may not agree to the men’s doubles team selection, reports PTI from New Delhi.
In its bid to resolve the selection crisis for the Olympics, the AITA decided to send two men’s doubles teams, pairing world number seven Paes with world number 207 Vardhan while Mahesh Bhupathi will team up with Rohan Bopanna.
“Leander has always compromised while playing for the country. I think now he is tired of doing that. I don’t think Leander will agree with AITA’s decision,” the senior Paes said here today.
“Leander will be disappointed with this decision. It is very unfair with him. He is a highly principled as well as an emotional man; so it is difficult to say which way he will go. Things have changed drastically over the past two days.”
He said that two people were ‘blackmailing’ the country and the AITA decision set a bad precedent for others.