The relationship between India’s star tennis players has hit a new low at the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. When 18 Grand Slam winner Leander Paes reached the Village on Thursday afternoon he found that he had no place to sleep.
The Indian tennis team has been allotted two three-bedroom apartments at the Village. While one accommodates the women — Sania Mirza, her doubles partner Prarthana Thombare and team manager Naseema Mirza all have individual rooms to themselves — the other apartment was left for the men. Paes, Rohan Bopanna, coach Zeeshan Ali and two male support staff were meant to share this. Mirza’s fitness trainer and Bopanna’s physio are sharing one room and Ali has another. It was learnt that one bed was removed from Bopanna’s room to make it a single occupancy.
“When I reached the Village I found out that there was no room or bed for me in the two apartments allotted to the tennis team. After that I went to the chef de mission and he cleared out a room to accommodate me somewhere else,” Paes told HT.
“Leander has been allocated a room right now. What we do is we allocate the rooms and give the keys to the different managers of the respective disciplines. I have allocated a single-occupancy room for him. All this talk about Rohan Bopanna removing the other bed from his room is untrue,” clarified Rakesh Gupta, India’s chef-de-mission on Friday.
It’s an established fact that some of the younger players do not like Paes and have often taken pot shots at him in the past. But the recent ouster from the team apartment is an altogether different nadir.
“I was flooded with messages enquiring why I did not want to share a room with Rohan at the Village the moment I landed. I was a bit confused by that as I had never expressed any such sentiment,” he said.
In the past Mirza has made no bones about her lack of friendship with Paes. She has been quite categorical that she will combine better with Bopanna in the mixed doubles as the two get along well.
Usually the team manager settles any disagreement within the squad but with the role being performed by Mirza’s mother Naseema at these Games, Paes seems to have been painted into a corner. Naseema though could not be contacted.
Paes has also faced criticism for turning up late for the Olympics. “The team management always knew my schedule. There was no ambiguity about when I was landing.”
There has been criticism that he and Bopanna did not get enough time to fine-tune their combination due to lack of practice at Rio. For that matter, Mirza and Prarthana have not played tournaments leading to the Games and neither have Mirza and Bopanna even though their rankings are good enough to get them into tournaments.
It was learnt that on Friday, when Paes had showed up for a scheduled practice session, he had to knock with coach Ali as none of the other players were there.
Bopanna did not respond to repeated text messages and calls from HT.
Paes is not in the best frame of mind going into the Games. Given the fresh animosity brewing in the Indian tennis squad at Rio, the chances of a men’s doubles medal are evaporating fast. If two players are unable to even share a room, it remains to be seen just how comfortably they share the court. The India duo faces Poland’s Lukasz Kubot and Marcin Matkowski who have played together on the tour this season to prepare for the Olympics. They aren’t a scratch pair like our lot and are probably far better friends too.