NEW DELHI: The All India Tennis Association’s (AITA) selection committee ended the speculation over whether Leander Paes will play in a record seventh Olympics. The panel, which met on Saturday, announced that the face of Indian tennis will indeed partner Rohan Bopanna, who sealed a direct spot as a top-10 player (world No 10) and had the right to ask for his preferred partner.
Bopanna had picked Saketh Myneni (world No 125), but it came as no surprise that the committee picked Paes, who, besides his credentials, is also India’s second highest-ranked doubles player (46). However, Paes, fresh from completing a career mixed doubles Grand Slam at the French Open, was not picked for mixed with Bopanna chosen to partner Sania Mirza.
“We feel Bopanna partnering Paes is the best possible combination for India,” AITA president, Anil Khanna, said. The mixed doubles sign-in will be on the spot at the Games but “we require a good cut-off ”. “With Bopanna ranked No 10 in men’s doubles and Sania the top player in women’s doubles, we are assured of a good position,” Khanna added. Sania will partner Prarthana Thombare (world No 209) in women’s doubles.
“The committee went by rankings,” Khanna said.“Bopanna had listed his preference; he didn’t say he didn’t want to play with Paes.” Khanna said Paes’ milestone of seven Games didn’t influence the 43-year-old’s selection. Bopanna and Paes have one win and two losses together in Davis Cup. But the players will get together ahead of the Davis Cup tie against Korea in Chandigarh (July 15-17).
Paes and Sania, the 2006 Asian Games champions, lost in the quarters at the 2012 Olympics. Sania and Bopanna have played together in the two seasons of the International Premier Tennis League and are good friends. “We know how one will react to a situation, be it a serve or return. There are somany things that go unsaid. And that has a lot to do with our friendship off court,” Sania had said in December. Paes tweeted on Saturday: “To play for the flag has always been the greatest inspiration for me… the honour to represent India at Rio Olympics 2016 is a dream come true. I’m thankful to the AITA for bestowing me this opportunity to wear the tri-colour on my heart once again”.
Bopanna released a statement on social media and said: “The selection committee has now made its decision after due consideration of my representation and has selected the team for the Olympics. I look forward to participating in Rio.”