In a repeat of the fracas that preceded London Games four years ago, the rift within the Indian tennis fraternity was exposed once again. On Friday, Rohan Bopanna, it was learnt, informed the All India Tennis Association (AITA) that he does not want to partner Leander Paes, country’s most successful doubles players, at the Rio Olympics this August. (Full Coverage: Rio 2016 Olympics)
Bopanna achieved the top-10 doubles ranking earlier this week, which gave him automatic qualification for the Games. According to International Tennis Federation (ITF) guidelines, Bopanna was eligible to select a partner of his choice. In a statement shared with the media today, he didn’t mention any name but asserted his right to pick his partner. However, AITA officials, on condition of anonymity said that the 36-year-old had opted for Saketh Myneni, ranked 126 in doubles, instead of World No.49 Paes.
Bopanna’s letter said: “A Direct Acceptance provides me the right to nominate my men’s doubles partner, an opportunity for me to exercise my judgement as to the best possible partner for me. I have, earlier today, communicated my decision to the AITA. I am looking forward to the support and good wishes of all concerned in the lead up to the Olympics.”
A senior AITA office bearer said Bopanna lacked the understanding of rules. “He does not know the selection process. By being in top 10, only he is assured of a place in the Olympics; not his partner. If the AITA feels the suggestion he has made isn’t in best interest of the nation, we will over-rule it,” the official said. “There is no doubt Paes and Bopanna is the best choice we have in doubles. We will try to convince him.”
The official added that the final decision rests with the selection committee that will meet on Saturday. Soon after learning about Bopanna’s decision, AITA’s top bosses met sports secretary Rajiv Yadav to update the ministry of their predicament. The sports ministry, however, has informed AITA they wouldn’t interfere in selection matters.
With Bopanna not naming Paes as his partner, old wounds have reopened. Back in 2012, three players – Bopanna, Mahesh Bhupathi and Sania Mirza – weren’t keen to partner Paes. Sania eventually gave in but this time, she is no mood to budge and she has already informed AITA that she would prefer Bopanna as her partner in mixed doubles.
But even Sania might be asked to have a rethink. A source said there is a possibility that Bopanna could be overlooked in favour of Paes. However, considering that combined ranking of players will play a crucial role in determining the mixed doubles teams, whether AITA can ignore Bopanna or not remains to be seen.