Rohan Bopanna thinks that he has a better chance at a men’s doubles medal if he is paired with world number 125 Saketh Myneni instead of the 46th ranked Leander Paes. The best that Myneni has done on the tennis tour are a few sporadic performances at the challenger level. Paes has 18 Grand Slam doubles titles. Myneni has never appeared on a stage as huge as the Olympics. Rio would be Paes’ seventh record-breaking Olympic on the trot – more than any tennis player ever.
On the face of it there is no logic to Bopanna’s choice. It would be silly to lend weight to the speculation that this is all being done to deny Paes his seventh Olympics. But that would make Bopanna a petty, brute of a man. One presumes that all this is plain posturing to put pressure on the national selection committee, which meets on Saturday. Bopanna may well be raising the stakes to ensure he gets a shot in the mixed doubles at Rio.
As far as Olympics rules go, it doesn’t matter whether Bopanna, by virtue of being in the top-10, is eligible to get an entry with a much lower ranked partner. The plain fact of the matter is that it is the All India Tennis Association selectors who decide who gets to represent India. The pairing they propose is the one that will be accepted at Rio.
This brings us to what AITA can do. Surely the Bopanna camp understands that when it comes to playing hard ball, players have been unable to prevail against federations since the dawn of sport. Before the London Olympics, the same office bearers had lost face when they tried to browbeat Bopanna into pairing with Paes. However, if the selection committee grids its loins and decides to announce a team pairing Bopanna with Paes, one does not really see what options the man from Bangalore has. Would he risk becoming a national villain by refusing to go to the Games altogether? The other quirky aspect of the rules that’s pertinent is that unless Bopanna goes for the doubles, he won’t be able to play mixed. The latter’s sign-in is only open for players already figuring in the singles or doubles draws.
Apart from looking out for the interest of Paes, who is a national icon, the federation would also be looking to get back at the increasing demands of the players. It has been bullied about a fair bit over the last couple of years and somehow Bopanna has always figured in the major controversies. This time around. he has given tennis administrators an opportunity to cut him down. After all, they will have a nation in uproar if Leander Paes is forced to miss out on his seventh Games on account of peevish behaviour. Bopanna may sulk, but he has to come around if he is to play mixed with Sania Mirza.
One does wonder just who advises Bopanna on his public image. The player has already seen his Arjuna applications meet dismissive fates on account of the negative public perception post the London Games controversy. This particularly ill-aimed missive from his side may well establish him as the man who puts self before medal. On tennis logic, there is no way he can justify picking Myneni over Paes. That is if he cares about getting India a medal in the men’s doubles discipline at all.