| Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi |
New Delhi: The angst just refuses to ebb.
The Leander Paes-Mahesh Bhupathi bickering saga, which started at the beginning of the new millennium, took a fresh turn on Friday when the Bangalorean rebelled against the All India Tennis Association (AITA)’s decision to pair him with his long-time partner for the London Olympics.
Minutes after the AITA selection committee in Bangalore “unanimously” picked the Paes-Bhupathi combination, leaving out Rohan Bopanna from the scheme of things, the Bangalore duo put out a joint statement expressing their disappointment. They also questioned the decision and they termed it as “unjustified compromise.”
Though Bhupathi gave enough hints for the last one week that he was only interested in playing with Bopanna as a doubles pair, the AITA selectors went ahead to select the team and name Bhupathi as Paes’ partner. As the only Indian player in the world top-10 ranking, Paes gets a direct entry into Olympics.
Defending the decision, AITA general secretary Anil Khanna said: “We have taken into consideration the form of Bhupathi, who won the French Open mixed doubles, and also of Paes’ Australian Open performance. We thought these two make the best pair to win a medal in London. That’s why we have decided to field them.”
Bhupathi-Bopanna though are not convinced.
“As a team that is entitled to a direct acceptance based on ITF criteria, we are saddened to learn of the decision of the AITA selection committee to not nominate us for participation in the men’s doubles tennis event at the Games.
“We have repeatedly and consistently communicated to the AITA our desire to only be considered for selection as a team and not as individuals to be paired with any other players.
“This was on the basis that we are a team legitimately entitled to a direct acceptance to the Olympics by virtue of our rankings. It is indeed disappointing that the AITA has chosen to disregard our request,” they said.
Hoping that better sense will prevail, the duo said they will continue to make their case to all concerned over the next few days. “We have no further comments at this time,” the statement said.
Though Bhupathi remained adamant on his stand, sources indicated that the champion doubles star from Bangalore may incur the wrath of the AITA for openly going against the decision. While efforts have already started to make Bhupathi toe the official line, there are also chances that disciplinary actions could be taken against him.
Sources also said the AITA officials were so upset with Bhupathi that they did not take the suggestion to send two doubles team for the Olympics, which India were allowed to do.
“A senior selector did make an attempt to finish off the controversy by sending two teams but his suggestion was brushed aside,” an official revealed.
On the mixed doubles pairing, Khanna said a decision would be made only after Sania Mirza gets a wild card entry. “It was decided that a wild card request will be made for Sania for either singles or doubles with Rushmi Chakaravarthy.
If Sania gets it by June 28, India will have an option to participate in the mixed doubles as well. Sania could play either with Paes or Bhupathi. But a final decision on the pairing will be made only after Wimbledon,” Khanna said.