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With 10 slams, Leander Paes is the best man to play mixed doubles for India

Playing from ad court, Paes had won the 1999 Wimbledon mixed doubles and reached the 2001 US Open with American Lisa Raymond

tennis Updated: Jun 12, 2016 01:44 IST
Sukhwant Basra
Sukhwant Basra
Hindustan Times
tennis,rio olympics,Leander
Switzerland’s Martina Hingis, left, and India’s Leander Paes hold the trophy after winning the mixed doubles final of the French Open. (AP Photo)

As the dust settles around the ego tussles of our tennis stars, one is left wondering if anyone is really focused on bringing home a medal.

With the tennis federation choosing to exercise the right of the selection committee over individual players’ preferences in men’s doubles, the sensible pairing of Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna will represent the country at Rio.

After first voicing his desire to partner Saketh Myneni, Bopanna was pretty quick to send a press release giving his assent to play with Paes. In just over an hour after the announcement, Bopanna was willing to “respect this decision”.

This lends credence to the belief that Bopanna was only raising the stakes to ensure he is paired with Sania Mirza for the mixed doubles. Once that bit had been confirmed, he came around rather quickly. After all, the same selectors had been calling him all of last week and asking him to play with Paes. He could have ‘respected’ them then if he wanted.

There is truth to the fact that Bopanna and Paes have not gelled together. But there is not enough weight to Bopanna’s assertion that “I do not believe our styles of play are either compatible or complementary”. If that was what he truly thought, then why did he approach Paes to partner on the tour before the London Olympics?

Perhaps it would be more logical that whether the two actually gel can only be figured if they practice together long enough. While Bopanna has played with over 70 partners, Paes has had over a 100 different players with him on court. Professionals such as these can adapt to the most limited of partners; here we are talking about two most accomplished doubles specialists.

Such is the belief of the selectors and AITA president Anil Khanna that the two can perform a miracle at Rio that the whole selection for the Davis Cup squad has also been turned around. Earlier, Paes did not figure in the squad as the federation no longer wishes him to play zonal ties.

However, it has now been decided that the veteran must come for the July 15-17 tie at Chandigarh early so that Bopanna and he can get more comfortable together. There is talk of even calling some of our other doubles specialists to ensure top-notch practice for the Rio-bound duo. India take on South Korea on grass.

Read |Rohan Bopanna to partner Leander Paes in men’s doubles at Rio Olympics

However, when it came to mixed doubles, the selectors allowed personal preference to intervene. Mirza and Bopanna are friends and get along well on court too. As such, they wanted to partner each other. One wishes that their zeal would have translated into commitment in the first two Slams of the year.

They are a strong pair but will have their work cut out in the 16-strong mixed field as each match (except for the four ITF slots) will be against some of the best players in the world. However, whatever strength Bopanna would lend to the pairing, it is unfair to suggest Paes wouldn’t be able to bring anything similar to the court.

Mirza is free to voice her opinion on the matter but it’s strange that the selection committee did not find merit in pairing her with a man who, with his 10 Grand Slam titles in the format, is one of the most accomplished men to have ever played mixed doubles.

The AITA said that Paes is a deuce court (right side) player and so is Mirza. They say that Bopanna will vibe better with her for he plays the ad court (left side). They seem to have forgotten that Paes won the 1999 Wimbledon with Lisa Raymond playing from the ad court. They were also runners-up at the 2001 US Open.

Then, the assertion that the combined pairing of Paes and Mirza won’t make the cut for the 12 direct entries that the mixed draw allows is also premature. There is no way anyone can be certain of that till the sign-in takes place on August 9.

The tennis federation looks to protect its players even when they act like prima donnas, dictating desires that illustrate they aren’t always concerned about what’s best for the flag. While the federation shields their whims, it should not lose sight of facts. After all, those can be cross-checked. Playing with those, it too joins the ranks of irresponsible press on the issue.

First Published: Jun 11, 2016 23:37 IST