The latest letter in the Indian Olympic tennis saga that is now becoming more sordid than a Balaji Telefilms soap opera has come from Leander Paes. India’s top ranked doubles player says he is ready to play with Mahesh Bhupathi or Rohan Bopanna and if they refuse to partner him, he will be ready to partner any youngster that the AITA chooses and respresent the country in London.
However, Leander says that if the AITA decides to send two teams and forces him to partner with one of the youngsters ranked in the 200s or 300s so that Bhupathi and Bopanna can have their way, then he will not go to London.
In the current situation, it is hard to imagine a combination of Leander and Mahesh or Leander and Rohan winning anything – leave alone a medal in London – after all the bitterness that has spilled out from their closets to our front pages. India’s best bet of a decent showing in the men’s doubles is likely to come from the pairing of Bhupathi and Bopanna, who have been playing together since January and who actually get along. Mahesh and Rohan know this. The selectors know it now, if they did not know it earlier, and Leander must know it too.
Yet Leander continues to insist on pairing with Mahesh or Rohan – in the faint hopes of winning another medal for himself – and perhaps in an attempt to preserve his legacy as India’s only tennis Olympic medal winner. Leander put himself before the nation earlier as well when he split with Bhupathi to find a younger partner at the end of last year so that he could continue achieving success on the ATP Tour.
It was Mahesh and Rohan who decided to combine at the end of 2011 in order to prepare for the Olympics. The duo even changed sides (both were ad-court players in their previous partnerships) and experimented, losing a few months in the bargain with the ultimate aim of finding the right recipe for success in London.
Leander’s willingness to partner with a Yuki Bhambri or a Vishnu Vardhan on the condition that they are the only team to be sent to London smacks of one-upmanship. As Bhambri rightly pointed out in an interview to an Indian televsion channel, Paes was once a 19 year old himself who got the backing of an experienced Ramesh Krishnan for the 1992 Barcelona Olymnpics.
If Bhupathi and Bopanna stick to their guns and refuse to partner with Paes, it would speak volumes for their personal integrity, even if it says nothing about their willingness to play unconditionally for the nation. However, if this works out for Leander, it’s hard to find his integrity in the midst of all this.