AITA on Wednesday put up a weak defence to Sania’s Mirza’s jibe taken at it, saying the selection for the London Olympics was done purely on merit and that it acknowledges the accomplishments of Sania.

Sania, who got a wild card entry into the Olympics, had on Tuesday night lashed out at All India Tennis Association (AITA) for using her as a “bait to pacify a disgruntled stalwart” (Leander Paes).

AITA had assured Paes a pairing with Sania in the mixed doubles event for the London Games after he was teamed up with lower-ranked Vishnu Vardhan for the men’s doubles, following Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna’s refusal to play with him.

In doing so, AITA broke the Grand Slam winning combination of Sania and Bhupathi. But tennis body defended its selection process, saying Sania’s pairing with Paes was purely based on merit and that it helped the Hyderabadi in securing a wild card from the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

“As regards selection of teams, the selection committee on 21st June, the last date for nomination, noted that Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna had made themselves unavailable for selection with Leander Paes despite efforts of AITA.

“The Committee then selected Leander Paes with Vishnu Vardhan as his doubles partner as Vishnu Vardhan was the preferred partner and also silver medalist in Asian Games,” the AITA secretary general Bharat Oza said in a statement.

“The committee also decided that wild card application be made for Somdev Devvarman and for Sania Mirza for both women’s singles as well as women’s doubles as without a wild card she will not be eligible to play mixed doubles.

“The committee, thereafter, selected world No. 7 and India No. 1 Leander Paes to partner world No. 12 and India No. 1 Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles Olympics event. With a combined ranking of 19 they were placed ninth in the top 12 teams to be eligible for mixed doubles. This selection is purely on merits as stated hereinabove,” the statement added.

Sania, in her hard-hitting statement, had said that AITA was portraying a wrong picture by saying she and Paes was the only possible qualification in the mixed doubles event for India.

AITA said it respects Sania and that her team with Paes was very much capable of fetching a medal at the next month’s Games.

“AITA respects all its players and is fully aware of the accomplishments of Sania Mirza as an excellent tennis player. AITA believes that Leander and Sania together are capable of producing fantastic results in the Olympics,” the statement said.

The national tennis body also appealed to the players to forget their personal differences for the sake of country’s interest.

“We earnestly appeal to all the players to unite together, shed off all their differences, stop going public and join hands together in the best national interest of winning medals for the country and to bring glory to the nation.”

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