Indian tennis legend Leander Paes will have to forego his claim on the mixed doubles event to be able to play in his seventh Olympics as efforts are being made to convince Rohan Bopanna to accept him as a men’s doubles partner for the Rio Games.
It is Bopanna, who has earned a direct entry into the men’s doubles event by virtue of his top-10 ATP ranking that also gives him the privilege to pick the partner of his choice.
The 42-year-old Paes’ dream of appearing in a record seventh Olympics may remain a dream if Bopanna decides to play with a player, ranked lower than Paes (world No 46), since it would mean the veteran cannot go to Rio.
For the lack of enough higher-ranked players, India can field only one team in men’s doubles.
The piece of history that Paes is eyeing is clearly in the hands of Bopanna and the winner of 18 Grand Slam titles will have to let go of his wish to play with Sania Mirza in mixed doubles, a format in which Paes has excelled in the last 18 months, completing a ‘Career Grand Slam’ with his latest triumph at the Roland Garros.
A tense AITA is trying to ensure that no bad blood is created this time before the Olympics and everyone gets to play.
Bopanna has not revealed his choice as yet but it has been learnt that AITA is likely to ask him to pair with Paes, keeping in mind the popular sentiment as well his ability.
“It makes sense if number one and two players of the country play as a team. Even a layman would also think that way. Rohan, no doubt, has the choice but here it is question of nation and not an individual. We are hoping that common sense will prevail,” an AITA official told PTI.
“And Leander is no less than Rohan. Yes, his ranking has gone down but he did not have a steady partner for some time. He played well at the French Open also. We do not intend to interfere but we will act in way which is in the best interest of the nation,” the official added.
Bopanna has the option to choose India’s fifth-best Saketh Myneni (125) since other higher-ranked players such as Purav Raja (103) and Divij Sharan (114) do not meet the Davis Cup criteria to be eligible for Olympic nomination along with Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (134) and Mahesh Bhupathi (164).
However, according to ITF, a National Association can appeal for a player’s inclusion if he does not meet the Davis Cup criteria.
If Paes has to be there in Rio, he will have to be content playing only the men’s doubles since AITA is not going to stop Sania from choosing her choice of partner this time.
“Sania can play with the partner of her choice,” the official said.
It is no secret that Sania is more comfortable playing with Bopanna than Paes.
Sania, the current world number one in women’s doubles, was forced to play with Paes at the 2012 London Games when she wanted to play with Mahesh Bhupathi.
Paes, a top-10 player then, was not given the chance to pair with Bopanna, who preferred to team-up with Bhupathi and thus to appease him, Sania was forced to team up with Paes by the AITA.
Now the situation is such that Paes is not in a position to bargain and has to make peace with the fact that he at least is not denied the chance to play a record seventh Olympics.
Also, when it comes to the combined ranking for entry into mixed doubles, which will have a draw of 16 teams, it is highly likely that only the pair of Bopanna and Sania can get inside. With Paes’ rank of 46, he and Sania may not get into the draw.
“It’s unfortunate that our two players, who were playing a Grand Slam final a few days back, may not compete together. But this how the situation is. A lot of people may not know it is quite possible that Leander and Sania do not get in at the time of on-spot sign in,” said another official.
“There will be Roger Federer (3) and Martina Hingis (1) with a combined ranking of four. Singles rankings of the players will also be considered and there could be Serena Williams (1) and a top American player (either Bob or Mike Bryan) with a combined ranking of 5 or 6. So it will be difficult for Paes with a ranking of 46 and Sania with a combined ranking of 47 to get into the draw,” he explained.
The ITF is set to clarify on the eligibility of players on June 9 and AITA’s selection committee will pick the Indian squad on June 11. The Committee is headed by former Davis Cup captain S P Misra and includes current Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali and former coach Nandan Bal.