| Mahesh Bhupathi |
New Delhi: In an attempt to pacify the feuding players, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) on Thursday worked out a compromise formula and decided to send two men’s doubles teams to the Olympics.
While Leander Paes and Vishnu Vardhan will form one team, Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna have been allowed to pair up as the second doubles combination. Paes, however, will play the mixed doubles with Sania Mirza, who is awaiting a wild card entry from the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
Terming their own decision as “unfair on Paes”, AITA president Anil Khanna was at a loss to explain what made them to deny the 1996 Olympic bronze medallist a chance to pair up with the second best player in the country in men’s doubles.
The following are excerpts
If Leander was spoken to before the decision was reached…
No, the time was very short as today (Thursday) is the last date for sending entries. Now that we have arrived at a decision, we will speak to Leander. We have been talking amongst ourselves and to the players for the past few days. Our honorary president, SM Krishna, who is India’s foreign minister and himself a former tennis player, helped us to arrive at this decision. We are sure the present formula would be acceptable to everyone.
Whether the sports ministry influenced the AITA decision
No. We did speak to the sports minister (Ajay Maken), but he did not influence our decision. He only advised us to do things in the best interest of the nation.
If the decision is fair on Leander
Well, it is a complicated decision. But in the light of all the problems we have faced for the last few days, I think it is a balanced decision. We have taken a calculated risk. Now we hope to be able to convince Leander to abide by the AITA decision. The decision might be unfair on Leander but we know he is always ready to sacrifice his personal gains for the sake of India.
Whether sending Leander and Sania for the mixed doubles is being unfair towards Bhupathi and Sania
See, with the combined rank of No. 19, Leander and Sania automatically qualify for the mixed doubles in Olympics. So, we felt a Leander-Sania combination is no less powerful than the Mahesh-Sania pair. Paes and Sania have an equal chance of winning a medal.
If Sania will accept the decision to play with Paes
Sania had earlier said Mahesh was his preferred partner. But she has told us that she will play with any player selected by the AITA.
The reason behind the AITA’s turnaround …
The decision was taken in the best interests of the country. Olympics, after all, come once in four years. I know Leander and Mahesh have played in several Olympics. But a player like (Rohan) Bopanna and Vishnu Vardhan are also nursing their dreams of playing in the Olympics. By sending two teams, we could give a chance to all of them … All these players are very good players and deserve this chance.
Also, remember that if Sania gets a wild card, then we have a chance of sending a women’s doubles team also. In that case, Rushmi Chakravarthi would go, making it six players to London. It would be the largest-ever Indian tennis contingent to an Olympics. But our job is still not over. As I said, I have not spoken to Leander before taking this decision. I will speak to him after this. I hope Leander and all the players involved will accept the decision in the interest of the nation.
If the AITA buckled under pressure from the Bangalore duo…
No, it is not. Tennis is a different kind of sport. In tennis, players are not exactly under the national federation or the ITF. They are professional players with ATP. So, any action against Bhupathi or Bopanna would not cut much ice. They will continue to play on the ATP circuit. There are chances that the ATP may not take note of our disciplinary actions. In cricket, if a player talks against the national body, then his career could be ruined forever. But that does not happen in tennis.
No action, then, against Bhupathi and Bopanna…
Well, we are planning implement a code of conduct, but that will be after the Olympics. See, Leander, Mahesh and Bopanna are good boys and great players. They are not politicians. It was, perhaps, an improper act on the part of Mahesh and Bopanna. Whatever they say may not be always be politically correct, but they do deserve to say a few things. So, let us now forget all the bitterness and make sure all the players do well in the Olympics. We have a bright chance of winning at least two medals.
On Yuki Bhambri’s outburst against Leander…
A good question… I wanted someone to bring this up. Yuki’s statement is extremely unfortunate. He is a young and upcoming player who spoke against a player who has done so much for the country over the last 20 years. It is like a cricketer who has played only two matches for India questioning the credibility of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid or Sourav Ganguly. Vested interest should strictly be kept away from the game.