Decks were cleared for Leander Paes to make a record seventh Olympic appearance after Rohan Bopanna on Saturday accepted him as his men’s doubles partner on the AITA’s insistence, ending days of speculation surrounding the Indian team for the Rio Games.
Bopanna’s original choice was Saketh Myneni but All India Tennis Association (AITA) selection committee felt that Paes and Bopanna are the “best bet” for a medal.
Bopanna will now have two shots at the Olympic medal as he has also been nominated for the mixed doubles event with Sania Mirza, who had also wanted to play him.
Sania will play women’s doubles with Prarthana Thombare, who trains at her academy under her father and coach Imran Mirza.
To ensure that Bopanna and Paes sort out their differences and “discomfort”, the AITA has also named them in the Davis Cup squad for next month’s Korea tie.
In a departure from norms, AITA has named a seven-member team after Paes made himself available and feels that spending a week together before the Games will give them opportunity to bond well.
In all, a major crisis, which had become a trend before Olympic team selection, has been averted this time with Bopanna not defying AITA’s decision.
“We have the highest respect for all the players. We want them to play at the optimum level while representing the nation. All the players are equally respected,” AITA President Anil Khanna, who is also the ITF Vice President, said after announcing the pairings.
Khanna said the selection committee looked at the results of Bopanna’s combination with both Paes and Myneni in Davis Cup and concluded that Bopanna and Paes were the best bets for a medal.
Bopanna had written to AITA that he and Paes have not been able to put together a good combination despite best efforts.
“I have much admiration for Leander Paes and his many achievements but I do not believe our styles of play are either compatible or complementary. Considering that 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,” he wrote in his letter.
However, the 36-year-old said he has accepted AITA decision.
“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,” he said in a statement.
AITA also appointed Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali as captain of the Olympic squad.