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Bopanna ‘chooses’ Myneni over Paes for Rio, decision lies with AITA

In a move that could have knocked Leander Paes out of Olympic reckoning, Rohan Bopanna picked Saketh Myneni on Friday as his preferred partner for the men’s doubles event at the Rio Games, but the AITA is set to reject his demand.

tennis Updated: Jun 10, 2016 22:32 IST
Sharmistha Chaudhuri
Sharmistha Chaudhuri
Hindustan Times
Rohan Bopanna,Leander Paes,Rio Olympics
Rohan Bopanna celebrates after beating Brazil's Marcelo Melo and Croatia's Ivan Dodig in a men's doubles semifinal match of the ATP World Tour Finals tennis tournament in London.(AFP File Photo)

Rohan Bopanna, who has got a direct entry to the Rio Olympics by virtue of his No 10 ranking, said on Friday that he prefers to partner Saketh Myneni in the men’s doubles instead of Leander Paes. According to sources, world No 1 women’s doubles player Sania Mirza is not keen on partnering the 18-time Grand Slam champion in mixed doubles either.

Let’s get one fact clear, no matter who Bopanna prefers to play with, unless the All India Tennis Association’s selection committee agrees to the combination, there’s no question of them playing at Rio together in August. The rules clearly state that names of the players are to be sent by the national association and if the selection committee decides they will not send Bopanna and Myneni’s names, they will not get to play.

Bopanna, who was ranked just outside the top 10 before the French Open, managed to get in by the cut-off date of June 6, courtesy Croatian Ivan Dodig’s semifinal loss at Roland Garros. The top 10 get a direct entry and get to choose their partner irrespective of their ranking. Myneni is currently ranked 125 on the ATP doubles chart, the fifth-best Indian. The 28-year-old has won one doubles Challenger in Nanjing with compatriot Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan this season and lost in the finals of two.

Bopanna and Myneni have played the Davis Cup previously. They lost the rubber against New Zealand in the Asia/Oceania Group 1 second round in Christchurch last July, but won against Korea and Chinese Taipei in 2014.

“Of course, Rohan’s preference will be taken into consideration,” said AITA CEO Hironmoy Chatterjee on Friday, a day before the selection committee holds a meeting. “It will be discussed at great length.” Chatterjee also added that while Bopanna told them of his preference on Friday, Sania hasn’t contacted them with regard to whom she prefers to play with.

Switzerland’s Martina Hingis (left) and Leander Paes hold the trophy after winning the mixed doubles final of the French Open tennis tournament. (AP F File Photo)

Former Davis Cup captain Akhtar Ali believes Paes and Bopanna are the best combination. “For the sake of the country, there’s no other better partnership. Bopanna is a left court player while Paes prefers the right. So their combination would be best,” says Ali.

“As world No 1, Sania has every right to choose her partner. She is not very comfortable on the right court,” he adds.

Paes and Sania have paired up on numerous occasions. They lost in the quarterfinals of the London Olympics but won gold in the 2006 Asian Games. Bopanna and Sania have paired up in the International Premier Tennis League for Indian Aces the past two seasons. Sania will most probably pair with Prarthana Thombare in women’s doubles, the second best Indian on the rankings list at 209.

If Paes goes to Rio, it will be his seventh consecutive Olympic appearance – the first by a tennis player. He won the French Open mixed doubles with Martina Hingis last week to complete a second career Grand Slam. Though he has a singles bronze from Atlanta 1996, he is keen to add a second Olympic medal to his resume.

He had told HT earlier, “Rohan and I are the best possible combination… We both are ready and without a shadow of doubt; me and Rohan are the best team.” Paes and Bopanna’s record as partners in Davis Cup have resulted in losses against Czech RepubIic (2015) and Uzbekistan (2012) but a crucial win against Serbia (2014).

Whatever the selection committee decides on Saturday on Paes’ situation, they had decided in their executive meeting earlier this year that there will be one person in charge of the tennis squad in Rio unlike previous years when there was a coach and manager. Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali will be in charge.

Read | Have conveyed ‘my decision’ on preferred partner for Rio: Sania Mirza

First Published: Jun 10, 2016 17:59 IST