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India’s Olympic Tennis Row

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Sport & Culture

India’s Olympic Tennis Row

Leander Paes is India’s best doubles tennis player. So why is he thinking of skipping the Olympics?

It’s not exactly the best preparation for the Olympics.

Indian tennis players have been fighting over the allocation of doubles berths for the tournament. Leander Paes is ranked as the seventh best doubles player in the world, and so qualified automatically for the Olympics. He would usually be expected to team up with Rohan Bopanna, ranked 12, or Mahesh Bhupathi, three places lower. But instead, his allotted partner is Vishnu Vardhan, ranked at 207.

Why? Because Bhupathi and Bopanna have refused to play with him. Now Paes may not even go to the Olympics. He will reportedly make his decision later this month.

“Today, I don’t feel like a son of the soil anymore. I’m shocked that we have given in to dirty politics…due to two people holding the country to ransom, my Olympic dream is in jeopardy,” Paes was quoted as saying Sunday.

All India Tennis Association (AITA) President Anil Khanna admitted that the decision to team up Bhupathi and Bopanna may be unfair on India’s highest-ranked player, but said there was little choice.

“We have only three eminent doubles players and only two out of the three can go. Therefore, it was felt that we should go and talk to the selection committee once again and see what we need to do.

“However under the given circumstances, this is the most appropriate decision,” he said.

Paes will play at Wimbledon – which starts on Monday and is especially important this year as it’s also the Olympic venue – with Czech partner Radek Stepanek. They are seeded fourth. Bhupathi and Bopanna are seeded seventh. It would be very interesting indeed if they met.

Paes and Bhupathi used to have a very close relationship.

“They were inseparable,” an unnamed female tennis player said of their relationship in the late 1990s as they started out together. “It was difficult to believe they weren’t a couple. They would chalk out their tennis fixtures together and wouldn’t play if the other wasn’t available.”

The players have said little about the situation, but their fathers haven’t stayed silent.

Vece Paes said: “From 1999 to now, they have played together and broken their partnership four times. Leander has always stayed quiet on these break-ups. We don’t know what is instigating Mahesh to take that stance.”

Krishna Bhupathi said that it was nothing personal. “He has just taken a stand, that he wants to play with a partner with whom he has already prepared for the games. It has nothing to do with ego, nothing to do with being adamant, nothing to do with liking or disliking a personality,” he said.

Paes’ best hope may be the fact that he has been entered in the mixed doubles with Sania Mirza, but this saga is set to run and run – especially as Mirza usually plays with Bhupathi.

That partnership has been broken by the AITA, and there are some who felt they should have been more forceful with Bhupathi and Bopanna.

“To take a harsh decision against Mahesh and Rohan isn’t in the best interest of nation,” said Khanna. “AITA established a code of conduct, we will consider action only after the Olympics.”