Now it’s Leander’s turn to blackmail, says will pull out of Games if paired with a junior player

New Delhi: The All India Tennis Association (AITA) was forced to defer its announcement of the final pairing for the London Games till Thursday after Leander Paes served a threat, saying that he would pull out if asked to pair with a junior player.

The AITA is now running out of time as Thursday is the last date for sending entries to the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

Paes' letter to the AITA secretary general Bharat Oza came on a day when India's External Affairs Minister SM Krishna, the honorary life president of the AITA, also asked Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna to resolve their problems with Paes in the country's best interests.

Krishna told the players that they should respect India's interests and resolve their individual differences at the earliest. He also informed the players that India's image should never be compromised for personal issues.

Paes, in his letter to Oza, reiterated that he was ready to pair with either Mahesh Bhupathi or Rohan Bopanna.

"I am comfortable to partner Mahesh or Rohan for the forthcoming Olympics. If Mahesh or Rohan refuse to play with me for our country, then I am happy to play with the next best player that the AITA decides on.

"However, it would not be acceptable, if with my ranking as the best Indian tennis player, I give up the best option of partner for winning a medal for my country and am made to play the Olympics with a player ranked 207/306 in the world while the No.13 and No.15 ranked players form another team together based on their refusal to play with me," Paes said in the letter.

Last week, the AITA announced that Bhupathi would partner Paes at the London Games. But both Bhupathi and Bopanna, who qualify for the Olympics as a team, have refused to pair with Paes.

Paes, who has earned direct qualification, being World No.7, has the right to choose his partner while Bhupathi and Bopanna can only play as a team at the Olympics. Yuki Bhambhri (World No.219) and Vishnu Vardhan (World No.328) are in the running to partner Paes.

Bhupathi also wants to pair with Sania Mirza for the mixed doubles event at the Games but that can happen only if Mirza gets a wildcard entry. They recently won the French Open mixed doubles title.

Paes, however, said that he and Mirza have gained a direct entry into the mixed doubles event.

"I have been ATP ranked at No.1 in the world as a team and No.7 in the world individually, for the first six months of 2012. By virtue of this, I have got a direct entry into the men's doubles at the Olympics with the right to choose my partner. I would also bring to your notice that Sania and I, by virtue of our combined ranking of No.19 on the ATP Tour have got a direct entry in the mixed doubles at the Olympics," said Paes.

Paes also said that allowing Bhupathi and Bopanna to call the shots and defy the decision of the selection committee would set a bad example.

"If this is the case, then for the sake of Indian Tennis and to relieve the AITA in regards to the selection of the team, I have no other option but to withdraw from the Olympics," Paes said adding that "this decision is not taken lightly and with any rancour".

"We cannot be condoning or rewarding the drama enacted by Mahesh and Rohan. This would be a bad precedent for current and future sports persons (particularly tennis players) in our country," said Paes. (IANS)