Bhupathi and Bopanna say they have been preparing for the Olympics as a team since last year
The bickering over the selection of the Indian tennis team for the London Olympics has not only compromised India’s chances at the games, but also exposed the great divide between the All-India Tennis Association (AITA) and the top players in the game — Mahesh Bhupathi, Leander Paes and Rohan Bopanna.
AITA’s selection panel headed by veterans such as Jaideep Mukherjea and S.P. Misra seemed to have come up with a choice that confounded everyone. The association’s further flip-flop over the issue made things worse.
Blunder No. 1
At first, AITA named just one team, when it could have named two. Its choice was Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes as the only team, when it is well-known that there exists deep animosity between the two and they have gone their separate ways after attempting one last patch up in 2011.
Bhupathi’s outright rejection of the AITA’s proposal and his insistence that he and Rohan Bopanna play as the team in the Olympics put AITA in a quandary.
Bhupathi and Bopanna’s contention was that they have been preparing for the Olympics as a team since the Chennai Open. Bopanna had even split with his Pakistani partner Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi, to chase the Olympic dream.
On paper, it sounds fine when a world no. 7 doubles player (Paes) pairs with the world no. 15 (Bhupathi) for India, especially when, in their prime, they won a clutch of tournaments including Grand Slam titles together. But when there is no present personal and on-court chemistry, what’s the point of getting them back together?
The decision was also unfair to Bopanna, whom AITA tried to convince to play with Paes after Bhupathi’s refusal, but in vain.
As pressure mounted through back channels, with Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna and Sports Minister Ajay Maken getting into the act, AITA bowed and did a re-jig by naming Bhupathi and Bopanna as its first team while teaming Paes with Vishnu Vardhan.
Paes, miffed at being paired with a player ranked 306 in the world, has so far refused to bite the bait.
As if in consolation, AITA offered to pair him with Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles; but interestingly enough, Sania too expressed her preference for Bhupathi, with whom she has won two Grand Slam titles.
AITA has sent an emissary to convince Paes. He might relent to partner with Vishnu as the second men’s team and ensure that he gets to play with Sania in the mixed doubles.
AITA could then sit back with smug satisfaction that it has finally ‘solved’ the issue. Has it, though?