They had spent a little less than four hours together on court. But it was enough for Leander Paes to pop the question to Saketh Myneni. “There is a clean offer. If Saketh wants to play doubles, I would enjoy playing with him on the (ATP) tour,” Paes said after the match.
In doing so, the veteran also justified the faith Rohan Bopanna had posed in Myneni. A couple of months ago, just before the Olympics, Bopanna had written to the All India Tennis Association (AITA) that Myneni would be his preferred partner for the Olympics. The AITA did not see any merit in Bopanna’s demand and sent him to the Rio Olympics with Paes. What happened there is well documented. But the events preceding the Games, it seems, continue to rankle Paes.
On the night he played ‘one of his best’ Davis Cup ties, Paes set the cat among pigeons by bringing up the inevitable issue of Olympics doubles team selection. “I can very, very clearly say that the past two Olympics, we didn’t put the best teams forward. This Olympics — the mixed doubles — was a huge opportunity,” he said.
The veteran of seven Olympics was referring to the men’s doubles combination at the London Olympics – where he was forced to pair up with Vishnu Vardhan while Mahesh Bhupathi and Bopanna teamed up to be the second Indian pair – and the mixed doubles combination at Rio Games, which saw Bopanna partner Sania Mirza.
Bopanna, according to reports, had agreed to partner Paes only after he was assured of a mixed doubles spot with Sania, who too had informed AITA that she wasn’t keen on partnering Paes. At the time, Paes said he had faith in whatever the selectors would decide. On Saturday, though, he would not hold back.
“What more does a man have to do than win four Grand Slams in 14 months? There were no other tournaments to win, I couldn’t create more tournaments. And still not get a chance to play. Sad!” Paes said. “There is no doubt that I and Sania should have been partners,” he later told a website.
WATCH: India lose 5-0 to Spain in Davis Cup
India returned without a medal, once again, in both doubles and mixed doubles. Sania and Bopanna lost in the semifinals before going down in the bronze medal playoff as well. Paes and Bopanna, meanwhile, lost in the first round as their relationship, on and off court, deteriorated further.
Bopanna later pulled out of the Davis Cup world group playoff tie against Spain, citing a ‘knee injury’. And now, Paes wants the doubles team for future Davis Cups unchanged, saying it will be ‘crazy’ to tinker with the combination now.
“I always believe it is the decision of the selection committee and captain but considering the way we played against a gold medal winning team and that too against 14-time Grand slam champion and Marc Lopez who has just come from winning a grand slam, good God, it will be crazy to switch anything around,” the 43-year-old said after the four-set defeat.
India will return to the Asia/Oceania zone after losing at the playoff stage for the third straight year. But Paes has his sights beyond Davis Cup. He spoke about the 2018 Asian Games and even hinted at playing the Tokyo Olympics, at which point event Myneni couldn’t hide his amusement.
He managed to handle the moment rather diplomatically. “We had a blast on the court today. It’s a blessing for me to get such an offer,” Myneni, India’s highest-ranked singles player at 137, said. “Singles is still the priority as long as my body permits. I will focus on that and keep doubles alongside. I will have to improve my rankings to play doubles as well.”
But Paes was insistent. In Myneni, he has identified his 108th partner on tour. “We need to nurture these guys or else four years from now it will again be a tussle who is playing and who is not (for the Olympics),” he said. “I would love to play with him.”