The interaction was to be about his career Grand Slam. But it never was going to be just about that, especially with Olympics around the corner. And Leander Paes knew it at the outset. So Paes decided to bell the cat himself. And it looks like there is nothing to speculate, after all. No suspense, no drama and certainly no acrimony. At least that’s what one could sense from the confidence with which Paes spoke about the Olympic pairings, his record seventh Games, Rohan Bopanna’s fine run of form and the necessity to learn from the past.
The All India Tennis Association (AITA) is scheduled to meet on Saturday to decide India’s Olympic teams but a consensus already seems to have been built – Paes/Rohan Bopanna for men’s doubles and Bopanna/Sania Mirza for mixed. The only question that remains is whether Bopanna, India’s highest ranked men’s doubles player and one with the authority to decide his partner, agrees.
But in his mind, Paes has no doubt as to who is going for the Olympics. “We are playing at a very high level. My career speaks for itself and Rohan has also been doing well in last 18 months. We both are ready and without a shadow of doubt, me and Rohan are the best team,” he said. “I am charged up about it. Now that I am at the threshold of another Olympics, there’s no greater honour than playing seventh Olympics in a row for India.”
He acknowledged the importance of doing well at the French Open, which has boosted his chances of going to Rio. Paes, who has had a mediocre year by his standards, reached the men’s doubles quarterfinals and won the mixed doubles title with Martina Hingis to complete a career slam. “If I hadn’t performed well at the French Open, my chances for getting selected for the Olympics would have been tough,” he said, dedicating his title to his father Vece Paes. “Selection is always on merit. At the end of the day, I have full faith in selection committee and they will send best team to win a medal at the Olympics.”
Paes seems to have made peace with the fact that in pursuit of his record seventh Olympics, he may have to give up on his mixed doubles ambition, a category where AITA hopes India has the best chance of winning a medal because of the small field. He replied with a smile and silence when why there was mistrust among the top Indian players — him, Bopanna and Sania – but said it is imperative that the ugly scenes that divided Indian tennis in run up to the London Olympics aren’t repeated again. “It’s crucial for sport in India that it doesn’t happen again. We definitely do not want a repeat of London,” he said.
He added he was ‘confident’ AITA president Anil Khanna and the selection committee would take the ‘right call’, Paes said it would be difficult for him and Bopanna to play ATP tournaments together because of their rankings. “We have had a conversation couple of times to play together but it also depends on our rankings. So if that opportunity arises, I think it will be a wonderful thing to do. But we are both at the peak of our performance and are ready. Without a shadow of a doubt, we are the best team to try and commit a medal at the Olympics,” he said.