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Left absolutely devastated, Paes battling his emotions

Leander Paes

Calcutta: Left “absolutely devastated” by the back-stabbing from a spineless All India Tennis Association (AITA), Leander Paes will take a call on playing in the Olympics at “some point” on Friday/ Saturday.

“Right now, Lee is very high on emotion... He’s been speaking to confidants and has been getting a mixed response from them... The AITA has let him down so badly... He feels crushed, but still intends to sleep on the day’s happenings which have drained him,” somebody close to Paes told The Telegraph around 10.45 pm on Thursday.

So distraught is Paes, days away from yet another appearance at the Big W, that he broke down when a well-wisher called him from here.

Paes’ initial reaction, one learns, had been to stand up for his “principles” and make himself unavailable for London. Even if that painted him as being selfish, of putting self before the country.

But, then, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna have got away with exactly that attitude. So, if it comes to withdrawing from the Olympics, why be uncharitable towards Paes?

Paes hasn’t responded in writing to the “compromise formula” again spelt out by the flip-flopping AITA, but has nevertheless communicated his rejection verbally.

The so-called formula has, in fact, humiliated Paes.

Around 12 hours after being “assured” that the AITA would field only one doubles team, featuring him and the No. 207-ranked Vishnu Vardhan, the sport’s governing body gave in to Bhupathi and Bopanna, leaving Paes (incidentally, a career Grand Slam winner in doubles) to partner a youngster.

Thrown into the Yamuna/ Thames was the original pre-revolt decision — one team, comprising Paes, the only Indian ranked in the doubles top-10, and Bhupathi.

The AITA has tempted Paes by pairing him with Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles, but she has to first get a wild card in the singles.

Given the complete lack of trust between Paes and the AITA, president Anil Khanna had to reiterate that Sania’s partner would be Paes alone.

Irrespective of what was announced by Khanna in the afternoon, it’s pretty clear that “external elements” had a huge role in the turnaround.

Either way, the entire episode reflects exceedingly poorly on the AITA which neither backed its selection committee nor the No.1 player, Paes.

As he’s ranked in the top-10, Paes has privileges, but he got denied his choice, Bopanna, who closed ranks with Bhupathi.

There’s speculation that union sports minister Ajay Maken, who had a closed-door meeting with senior colleague and foreign minister S.M. Krishna, the AITA’s honorary life president, in the morning, did influence the turn of events.

Krishna had taken it upon himself to “persuade” either Bhupathi or Bopanna to play with Paes, but his fellow-Bangaloreans didn’t play ball.

Khanna admitted that “the decision might be unfair” on Paes, which is an understatement. But, more than that, one expects the governing body of any sport to be fair in its dealings.

To be transparent, too, and not play games away from the public eye.

By not disciplining Bhupathi and Bopanna, the AITA has sent the wrong signals, principally that some players are, indeed, bigger than the game.

Nothing can be more unfortunate, for an unhealthy precedent has been set. A senior member of the AITA’s executive committee, by the way, termed it as “disgusting.”

Surely, it’s time the selection committee, headed by Anil Dhupar, put in its papers. The selectors have been made redundant.

In a text message to this Reporter, one of the selectors described the U-turn on fielding one team as “unfortunate” for Paes.

“It’s a failure of the system,” is how Enrico Piperno, India’s Fed Cup coach, put it. Many will endorse that without a second thought.

Footnote: While Bhupathi had been giving interviews over the past few days, one heard Bopanna only after the AITA’s turnaround. Perhaps, after the green light from the senior pro!

Inputs from Jaydeep Basu in New Delhi