“What controversy?” is Leander Paes’ first question when asked about the latest bit of mud-slinging in tennis. Word from the Indian tennis squad at Rio suggested that the veteran player had asked for a separate room at the Olympic Village and refused to share with his partner for the Games, Rohan Bopanna. Coach Zeeshan Ali also went on record to say that he did not know what Paes’ plans were and just when he would be coming to Rio.
Paes landed in Rio on the afternoon of August 4 and was set to head out to the Olympic Village when your correspondent got him on the phone. “To start with, I spoke to Zeeshan just a few days ago from Washington where I was playing World Team Tennis (an intra-club league in the US). He knew all about my plans. Then, I have not said anything about not sharing with anyone, this is news to me.”
Paes has been criticized by a section of the press for being ‘missing’. “Nobody has spoken to me, so I don’t know where these conclusions have come from.”
Asked about the room issue, Paes said: “I have all along said that I will stay in the village. I have no desire to stay anywhere else. I have absolutely no hassle in sharing my room with anyone. This fact can be easily cross-checked with the chef-de-mission Rakesh Gupta. I wonder why no one is bothering to do that before blaming me for stuff I haven’t even thought about, let alone done.”
While he has been accused of missing essential practice at Rio leading into the Olympics, Paes rushed to the scheduled knock on Friday evening and found that none of the players were there. “There was a practice schedule but only coach Zeeshan (Ali) was there. I had to play with him.”
It’s apparent that misinformation about the seven-time Olympian has been stemming from the tennis camp. He is not friends with Bopanna or Sania Mirza and the rancour seems to have worsened. This portends ominous for the chances of the Paes-Bopanna combo in the men’s doubles as their lack of chemistry now seems to be turning into blatant acrimony. 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.