Leander Paes is participating in his seventh Olympics at the Rio 2016 Olympics where the 43-year-old is partnering Rohan Bopanna in the men’s doubles event. This will quite possibly be his last opportunity to win a medal for the country and add to his surprising bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
Bopanna, who bagged India’s place at the Olympics due to his top-10 ranking on the cut off date had initially asked to partner Saketh Myneni at the big event. Myneni isn’t on top of the charts in singles or doubles but has done well when partnering the big serving Bopanna in the Davis Cup. They also share a good relationship on and off the court. But AITA instead chose Paes as his partner and Bopanna, knowing that no partner would mean no Olympics, almost immediately agreed.
The duo played together against South Korea in the Davis Cup in Chandigarh and won in straight sets. But since then, they’re yet to hit a ball together even as other doubles partnerships – men or women – have had a good headway to understand their respective partners.
Earlier on Thursday, there were rumours of Paes being late for the Rio 2016 Olympics and not wishing to play roommate with Bopanna. Like wind to fire, Bopanna also shrugged off knowing where the Olympic medallist was while suggesting he was focusing on getting ready by hitting with Sania Mirza – his mixed doubles partner, Prarthana Thombare (Mirza’s doubles partner) and Zeeshan Ali (India’s non playing captain).
But Paes landed in Rio on Thursday morning with Martina Hingis after playing in the World Team Tennis. Paes then spoke to the media to quash any suggestions that he was late and wishing not to share a room with Bopanna.
Standing beside Paes, Zeeshan said, “Leander never said he wasn’t staying in the Games village. He never informed me either so let’s put that aside first. I’m not sure where these reports emerged from but I was aware that Leander was coming on 4th (August) because he was playing in the World Team Tennis. The only thing I was concerned about was that if he came on the 4th evening, it wouldn’t give him enough time to practice,” he told Times of India.
Paes clarified that no room has been allotted to him in the Games village and appreciated India’s Chef de Mission Rakesh Gupta for allowing him to change in his room. “I am slightly disappointed that having played six Olympics for India, I haven’t been given a place to stay. I was playing a tournament in New York and took the first flight on its completion. The match got over at 8 and took a 10.45 flight to Rio,” Leander said. Of the three rooms that have been assigned in the apartment, one is with Zeeshan, and the other two have been given to Rohan and the team physio,” he said.
— Leander Paes (@Leander) 4 August 2016
The early reports had claimed that in the exchange between AITA, Bopanna and Paes post the South Korea Davis Cup rubber, Paes had agreed to reach Rio by the 1st of August. Another question that is worth pondering over is whether there will be enough time to practice to beat doubles teams who play regularly on the tour or have had longer to get ready by acclimatising to the courts and conditions.