The ongoing feud in Indian tennis has not only cut a sorry figure but may also have robbed the country of a possible medal in the upcoming London Olympics. Despite being told categorically by Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna to not pair them with Leander Paes, and having an option of fielding two separate teams, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) on Friday stuck to its guns and decided to send only one doubles team " Paes-Bhupathi " to the quadrennial event.
Though AITA general secretary Anil Khanna termed the decision in the best interest of the country, a miffed Bhupathi, who made his point of not being paired with Paes clear much before the selection committees meet, declined to represent the country, along with Bopanna, if the current situation persists.
"We have repeatedly and consistently communicated to the AITA our desire to only be considered for selection as a team and not as individuals to be paired with any other players," Bhupathi and Bopanna said in a joint statement. "This was on the basis that we are a team legitimately entitled to a Direct Acceptance to the Olympics by virtue of our rankings. It is indeed disappointing that the AITA has chosen to disregard our request," the duo added.
A furious Bhupathi went a step ahead, lashing out at (AITA), and calling Paes a "back-stabber" referring to the latter's decision to split during the end of last season. "Paes publicly and privately stabbed me in the back in November, last year and things can't be turned around. We don't speak and have no camaraderie," he told a news channel.
Moreover, Bhupathi is also doubtful about the pair's chances at the quadrennial extravaganza. "If anyone can make a case that we have done well in the last four Olympics, then I am happy to go in the fifth. But I am pretty sure that we would struggle. If AITA feels I should be banned, so be it," he said.
But why did the AITA decided to pair Paes and Bhupathi when the two players had a bitter past and when the former was not interested in playing with the latter? To that Khanna said it is a decision to be made by committee and not the players. "They have played four Olympics together. They played for India despite differences so we expect them to bury their differences and play for the nation at London Olympics also, he said.
"The option was between fielding two teams or one that would win a medal. If we were to pair Leander with the number fourth or fifth-ranked Indian, especially with Somdev [Devvarman] still doubtful, it would not be fair to expect a medal from Leander. We think Leander and Mahesh are our best bet for a medal," he further added.
Moreover, the tennis association officials are in a huddle in Bangalore and they could possibly ban Bhupathi and Bopanna for two years if the duo sticks to its stand.
Bhupathi, on the other hand, was adamant on his decision, saying pairing him with Paes was "worst possible in the interest of the country". He also said that the decision has something "more to it than meets the eye." "The ship that Leander and I boarded has sailed long time ago. We have split four times, gone to the Olympics four times and returned empty-handed. For us going back to the Olympics (together) is worst possible in the interest of country," Bhupathi said.
Things dont end here. A decision on with whom Sania Mirza would be paired in the mixed-doubles category is yet to be taken. Sania " who has already said that she wanted to pair with Bhupathi and not Leander at the Olympics " is yet to not eligible to contest in the Mega Games and her participation depends on whether she gets the wild card entry into the womens event by June 28.
The AITA, in its meeting, has also decided to send a request to give Sania a wild card entry. "It was decided that a wild card request will be made for Sania for either singles or doubles with Rushmi Chakaravarthy. If Sania gets it [the entry] by June 28, India will have an option to participate in the mixed-doubles as well. Sania could play either with Paes or Bhupathi. But a final decision on the pairing will be made only after Wimbledon," Khanna declared.
Meanwhile, the Paes camp decided to accept the selection committees decision without any retaliation. Dr Vece Paes, Leanders father, said they had accepted the AITA's decision and that "Leander will play unconditionally, as he has always done".
So sending a team of players, who hold a grudge against each other and who are not in talking terms with each other for quite some time now, could not be termed as the right decision. And even if the two players bury their differences one final time and decide to represent the country in London, will they give their 100 per cent? Whatever the outcome of the current mess, it has definitely left India in a bad light.