Indian Tennis gets ready for Tokyo 2020 with yet another selection controversy
Indian tennis is likely to serve up some additional drama ahead of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games
It's been more than a month that the Rio Olympics have been over but India's tennis stars still seem to have not let it go. Leander Paes, the Dev Anand of Indian tennis, is still upset that he was not part of the mixed doubles team that represented India in Rio as indicated by his comments on Saturday following the doubles loss to Spain in the Davis Cup.
“I can very clearly say that in this Olympics and the last Olympics that we didn't put the best team forward. This Olympics the mixed doubles was a great opportunity. What more does a man need to do than win four Grand Slams in 14 months. There was no more tournaments to win, I could not create anymore tournaments. Sad."
And depending on whose version of events you believe, Sania Mirza's family may or may not have asked the All India Tennis Association to look into the WADA hacks about Venus Williams' medical records (Mirza and Bopanna lost out to Williams and Rajeev Ram in the semi-finals in Rio).
Also Read: An open letter to Leander Paes from a fan
And say what you must, but looks like we could have another selection controversy in the Indian tennis camp when it comes to Tokyo 2020. And some early shots are already being fired. Incredible as it may seem, Paes has not completely ruled out playing in Tokyo when he would be 47 years old.
To be fair, this is not unprecedented - Paes' close friend Martina Navratilova was winning mixed doubles Grand Slams at the age of 50. And after he and Bopanna flopped in Rio, Paes has said that it would be a bad idea for the selectors to change his partnership with Myneni in the upcoming ties while adding that he would stand by whatever the Indian selectors decide.
“I always believe it is the decision of the selection committee and captain but considering the way we played against a gold medal winning team and that too against 14-time Grand slam champion and Marc Lopez who has just come from winning a grand slam, good God, it will be crazy to switch anything around but having said that I am here to support the team."
Paes and Bopanna were scheduled to play in the doubles against Spain in the Davis Cup World Group play-off but Bopanna pulled out of the tie earlier this week due to a knee injury. That meant Myneni, currently India's top-ranked singles player at 137, was given the chance to team up with Paes in the doubles.
And after the Indian duo went down to Rafael Nadal and Marc Lopez, who won the doubles gold in Rio, Paes went all out to woo Myneni on to his side, heaping plenty of praise on his 28-year-old countryman, saying that he has the potential to win a Grand Slam in doubles and even asked him to partner together on the ATP circuit.
“I am really excited because I and Saketh played for the first time together. I am impressed by his serve and return. I think he is a natural hard court player. I think he is a really good leader. In India, most guys want to follow and having played with 107 players, I kind of know his personality is not so bad. He gets out there, and even in tough situations he would say 'Lee crack your return'.
“I like that someone is working with the perspective of winning. I enjoyed playing and if we can have 4-5 matches together we will do really well to build a partnership here. He is very receptive to something you tell him...for four sets, we knew what shot we wanted to play, we wanted to come back against them.
“I would love to play with him. I had a lot of partners who are much less talented than him. If I get Saketh for six months and if he keeps working hard, this guy can win a Grand Slam with others not just with me. This guy can be a Grand Slam winner, he is a hell of a player."
Paes believes that Myneni has the potential which must be harnessed with the Asian Games coming up in 2018 and the Olympics in 2020. "I have a little long sight, sometimes people believe in it and sometimes people don't. We have the Asian Games coming up in 18 months and the Olympics in four years and whether I am around or not around, we need to nurture these guys or else four years from now it will again be a tussle who is playing and who is not."
Myneni, on the other hand, played it cool, saying that his priority continues to remain singles. "Singles is still my priority as long my body permits. I love the offer that he gave me. I am still learning a lot both the on court and off court. It is a long way to go. So I would like to play singles and balance it up with doubles. I would like to move my singles ranking up so that I can play doubles also."
So there we are, one month after the Olympics, the serves and volleys off the court have begun in Indian tennis. It seems clear from Paes comments that he thinks a Paes-Myneni partnership is the way-to-go in the near future rather than a Paes-Bopanna or a Bopanna-Myneni partnership.
In Tokyo, Myneni would be the youngest of the trio - at 32 while Bopanna would be 40 and Paes 47, which may give him an upper hand in deciding who to play with depending on how the rankings pan out four years down the line.
Peas has struck the first serve in this battle. Now let's wait and see how Rohan returns it.