Top seed Sania Mirza and Ivan Dodig’s loss in their first outing and Rohan Bopanna’s loss in the company of Anastasia Rodionova in the third round of the mixed doubles at Wimbledon must have fired up the lone Indian still left in that draw.
Leander Paes has been quite vocal about his contention that as the man with the most mixed doubles titles in the world, he should have been a shoo-in to represent India at the Rio Olympics in that event. Now, world number one ranked Sania Mirza has shown her preference for Bopanna and the national federation has been content to go with her call. They have couched their decision in the logic of the rankings.
Paes contention has all along been that even if his ranking at the cut-off date of June 6 was not high enough to assure a direct entry for Mirza and him, even then they would have been eligible for an entry. The regional exempt rule applied by the International Tennis Federation stipulates that if there is no entry from one of its six regional associations, then a pair from there will be given a chance.
Now, with All India Tennis Association president Anil Khanna also holding the top job in the Asian Tennis Federation Paes’ logic does find some solid mooring. However, sports officials across the world are not known for sticking their necks out. The underlying credo for any sports body seems to be more about survival of its thekedars than really focusing on things like grooming players or, for that matter, garnering medals.
For Khanna and gang, the priority when announcing the Indian pairs for Rio had more to do with ensuring that their boat was not rocked. From their point of view Indian tennis could scarce afford another public flare-up of hostilities. As such, the solution that allowed the path of least resistance was implemented.
Paes is still smarting from being denied a shot at the mixed medal at Rio. With the other two having crashed out early, he is bound to be all the more motivated to push harder for his record-breaking eleventh mixed doubles title. Of course, given that he and partner Martina Hingis (seeded 16th) run into the second seeds Bruno Soares and Elena Vesnina next, things won’t be easy for him. But surely the early loss of the other two would have fired him up to push all the harder.