| Leander Paes |
Calcutta: For the past week, Leander Paes had been consulting those closest to him, wanting to know if he should actually put aside the All India Tennis Association (AITA)-inflicted humiliation and play in the London Olympics.
After getting a mixed response, Leander decided to go only by what his Olympian-father, Dr Vece Paes, and wife Rhea had to say. Both suggested he make a point on the court.
That a champion like him ought not to be following the agenda set by others. Moreover, he’d always given it his all for the tricolour.
Initially, Leander was to have issued a statement on Friday, but chose to do so late on Thursday itself, after he and his doubles partner, Radek Stepanek, won their first-round match at Big W.
The statement began with the equivalent of an ace on championship point: “I am here to play sport, not politics. Unfortunately, I see games played within games...”
Soon afterwards, around 1.45 am (on Friday), Leander spoke to The Telegraph from his apartment in London. He said: “There are times in life when hard decisions have to be taken... I’m driven by goals and can’t allow politics to derail my dream of representing India in the Olympics for a sixth time.”
The hurt remains, for the AITA didn’t give Leander the doubles partner of his choice (Rohan Bopanna) and, worse, allowed Mahesh Bhupathi and Bopanna to gang up and dictate terms.
However, Leander decided to look at the larger picture, that he wouldn’t like to be remembered as a pro who put self before the country, who allowed detractors the proverbial last laugh.
Also, no matter what the Bhupathis may tell the world, they wouldn’t be able to take away a record sixth appearance in the Olympics.
Right now, Leander is on a par with the late Karni Singh and Randhir Singh, all having featured in five Olympics.
Without naming Bhupathi, Leander took more than a swipe at him (and Sania Mirza) in his statement: “All I can say is that the AITA, being the national sports federation, has picked the team, and I am no one to go against that."
After a fortnight, AITA president Anil Khanna, for one, must have slept well.
Unlike Bhupathi, in particular, Leander has largely kept away from issuing statements/giving interviews. Typically, the one bearing his signature late on Thursday was to the point.
Very telling, too.
Dr Paes, meanwhile, sounded happy. “I’m glad Lee has made his decision... Having done so, he’s relieved... Now, he’ll be able to focus on his goals, without getting distracted.”
Word is that Sania, named to partner Leander in the mixed doubles at the Olympics, will not add to what she unleashed the other day, but nobody is quite sure about Bhupathi.
The winner of 13 Grand Slam titles, Leander is also a singles bronze medallist at the Olympics (Atlanta, 1996).
The Paes Ace
Leander Paes went public with the following, in London, late on Thursday:
“I am here to play sport, not politics. Unfortunately, I see games played within games, which is disheartening. But, without doubt, I will play my sixth Olympics for my country, going with the teams selected by the AITA.
“I have worked hard for this all my life. I will not let petty politics get in the way of hard work and good tennis. I have always maintained that playing for my country is the biggest honour. I will give it my best shot in London too.
“It would be great to add another medal to the one that’s already at home.
“I do not want to react to anything anyone has said. All I can say is that the AITA, being the national sports federation, has picked the team, and I am no one to go against that.”