Bangalore: Putting an end to a long-running and contentious issue, the five-member selection committee of the All India Tennis Association Friday named Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi to represent the country in the men’s doubles event of tennis competitions at the London Olympics.
AITA president Anil Khanna, speaking at a Media conference here, asserted that Paes and Bhupathi, who are said to be barely on talking terms, were India’s best bet for an Olympic medal.
Khanna disclosed that the selectors took the “unanimous” decision to field Paes and Bhupathi after a teleconference with the duo and Rohan Bopanna, the other doubles specialist who was in contention.
Stating that differences between the players were “part of professional sport”, Khanna said: “When playing for the country, we hope that all will rise above petty differences.”
Bhupathi had recently said that he preferred to partner Bopanna at the Olympics rather than Paes with whom he has not enjoyed any kind of relationship since parting ways in 2002.
“Players cannot be selectors,” said Khanna when told about Bhupathi’s preference and declined to comment on how the player would react to the decision to team him up with Paes at the Olympics.
“We will not speculate as to how the players will react. If for any reason (other than injury) they decline to play, then they will face disciplinary action,” said Khanna.
Bhupathi and Paes came together last year in a bid to win the Australian Open to complete a personal career Slam, but failed. Later, the duo reached the semi-finals at the year-end Masters.
When asked whether Bhupathi and Paes will pair up for the Wimbledon to prepare for the Olympics, Khanna said it was quite possible that they might do so.
Meanwhile, the AITA would be lobbying for a wild card for the country’s two top singles players Sania Mirza and Somdev Devvarman. “If Sania gets the wild card in singles, then she will be partnered by Rushmi Chakravarthy in the women’s doubles. We will know by June 21 which is the cut-off date. As for the mixed doubles, there is no urgency since the cut-off date is July 31 and also it depends on whether Sania will receive the wild card.”
Regarding Devvarman, who is recovering from a shoulder injury, Khanna said: “Devvarman hopes to play in the Wimbledon. He has been serving and he said he is fit.”
Ahead of Friday’s meeting, the interest centred around the men’s doubles combination since Bhupathi and Bopanna had reportedly written to AITA that they would like to pair for the Olympics.
Khanna dwelt at length on the rankings to justify the decision to have Paes (7) and Bhupathi (12) rather than Bhupathi and Bopanna (14). “We decided to take the combined ranking. Bhupathi might have said that he and Paes could not win a medal in the previous four Olympics, but at the moment, they are the best combination we have. Paes won the Australian Open this year with a new partner (Radek Stepanek) and Bhupathi won the mixed doubles at the French Open (with Sania). So, obviously, both are in good form and hence we decided to team them together. As for the mixed doubles, again Paes and Sania (12) have a better combined ranking than Sania and Bhupathi. However, we will wait until the Wimbledon and see how the players perform.”