Leander Paes will play in his seventh Olympic Games after getting the nod from the All India Tennis Association (AITA) on Saturday (June 11) – a move which has angered his Rio doubles partner Rohan Bopanna.
Bopanna – who as the highest ranked Indian could put forward the name of his preferred team mate – wanted to play with Saketh Myneni instead and immediately ruled out any chance of success alongside 18-time Grand Slam-winner Paes.
However, Paes, 42, said on Twitter he was “honoured, humbled and excited” at being selected despite Bopanna’s snub. The duo have a chequered history, including a similar controversy over selection at the 2012 Games in London.
“The honour to represent India at Rio Olympics 2016 is a dream come true,” Paes added. “I am thankful to the AITA for bestowing me this opportunity to wear the tricolour on my heart once again.”
Bopanna, 36, told officials he had “much admiration for Paes and his many achievements, but unfortunately we have not been able to put together a good combination despite our best efforts and I do not believe our styles of play are either compatible or complementary”.
He continued: “As you will see from my track record, I have had success with partners who have big weapons; a serve, a forehand. In that sense, the ranking of the player in doubles is far less important than what he brings to the partnership.
“I have played with over 70 partners in my career and that has given me the ability to gauge what type of player works well with me and what doesn’t.”
Paes won the French Open mixed doubles title with Switzerland’s Martina Hingis at Roland Garros earlier this month. The Kolkata-born player made his Davis Cup debut in 1990 and began his professional career a year later.
He had success as a singles player, defeating Andre Agassi to win the bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.
But after the tennis body’s verdict, Bopanna tweeted a statement, saying: “Considering this is a team event where two individuals need to gel together to do well, regardless of individual achievements, it is the team and the combination that matters.
“The AITA selection committee has now made its decision after due consideration of my representation and has selected the team for the Olympics. I respect this decision and look forward to participating in Rio.”
Bopanna is a 17-time doubles winner on the ATP tour and a Grand Slam runner-up at the US Open. He had success with compatriot Mahesh Bhupathi and Pakistan’s Aisam ul-Haq Qureshi and is currently ranked in the top ten.
AITA chief Anil Khanna explained the selection committee decided to pair Bopanna with Paes for the best interest of Indian tennis.
“He (Bopanna) has given his reasons to the committee on why he feels Saketh could be a better doubles partner. He has praised Paes. He appreciated the contribution that he had made,” Khanna said.
“At the same time, Rohan said that he wants to represent the nation with great pride and do his best. The selection committee, giving due respect to Bopanna, decided the best bet for Indian tennis to win a medal at the Olympics is to have Paes and Bopanna as a doubles players.”
The committee also decided to nominate Bopanna and Sania Mirza for the mixed doubles competition in Rio.
Bopanna and Paes will likely get a chance to test out their partnership ahead of the August Games in India’s Davis Cup tie against South Korea in Chandigarh from July 15-17.
Olympic captain and Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali commented: “We did not have Leander in mind for the Davis Cup because he had ruled himself out earlier.
”But keeping Rio in mind, we have included seven players in the team instead of the usual six to accommodate him.”
“The whole idea is to get together and prepare for the Olympics,” he added. “Rohan never said that he will not play with Paes. He just communicated to us his preferred choice of partner.
“We are now hoping both of them will be able to come down to Chandigarh, spend some time together and work out their differences.”