Hesh, Bops have the last laugh in Indian tennis drama; Paes to pair with Vishnu

New Delhi: The All India Tennis Association (AITA) Thursday tried to keep Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna happy by deciding to send two doubles teams to the Olympics as they demanded and gave an assurance to Leander Paes that he would partner Sania Mirza in the mixed doubles.

Paes, who is asked to partner youngster Vishnu Vardhan in the men's doubles, is far from pleased with AITA bowing to the "black-mailing tactics" of Bhupathi and Bopanna and letting them pair up.

Paes's father Vece Paes said it was not a justified decision and a source close to the family told IANS that the top-ranked Indian in doubles has asked for a written assurance from the AITA that Mirza won't back off at the last moment for Bhupathi. Sania and Bhupathi recently won the French Open.

AITA president Anil Khanna also admitted that the decision was unfair on Paes and appropriate action would be taken against Bhupathi and Bopanna after the Olympics.

Khanna said the final recommendations have been made as Thursday was the deadline for sending the Olympic entries to the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

"The AITA agrees that this decision is unfair to India No.1 and World No.7 Leander Paes. The AITA holds Leander in very high esteem and appeals to him to accept the decision in the best interest of the nation," said Khanna.

Asked if Paes has sought any assurances from Sania, Khanna said: "Sania is no one to give an assurance. Her qualification depends only on a wildcard. And we have sent all the nominations and they cannot be changed without the approval of the Indian Olympic Association (IOA)."

Sania's preferred partner was Bhupathi, but she had informed AITA that she would play with Paes if asked to do so. Sania, if eligible, will also partner Rushmi Chakravarty in the women's doubles. The AITA has also applied for a wild card for Somdev Devvarman in the men's singles event.

Khanna said sending two men's doubles teams was not the best decision on "tennis grounds" but the association was left with no option as any other decision would hamper India's medal prospects.

"AITA admits that the decision of pairing Mahesh and Rohan on tennis grounds alone may not be the best. However, in the given circumstances, this is the most appropriate decision," said Khanna.

Khanna also said the decision was arrived at after consulting AITA's honorary life president S.M. Krishna, who is also India's external affairs minister.

"Mr. Krishna's guidance and approval helped the AITA to arrive at the decision," said Khanna.

In fact, Krishna played the key role in convincing Paes to pair-up with Vishnu and end the week-long drama over the selection.

Krishna spoke with Paes early Thursday morning and convinced him to pair with Vishnu for the sake of the nation.

"Mr. Krishna personally spoke with Leander in the morning and told him that he should make some sacrifice for the sake of the nation. The AITA hopes Leander will now give Vishnu a chance to play his first Olympics," AITA secretary-general Bharat Oza told IANS.

Khanna concurred and said the decision of sending two teams was taken after consulting Krishna, a tennis player himself.

Khanna felt that Paes will soften his stand and partner with Vardhan.

"We have taken a very calculated risk. But I hope he will make some sacrifice for the sake of the nation and also give two Indians their first chance to play in the Olympics," said Khanna.

Khanna said AITA expects the players to accept the decision graciously that has been taken after due deliberations.

"AITA now expects all the players to graciously accept the decision which has been taken after due consultation and deliberations in the best interest of the players and the nation," he said.

Khanna also remained hopeful that six players would be representing India at the Olympics. It will be the biggest ever Indian participation in Olympic tennis.

"In case Sania is given a wildcard on June 28 this decision may help six players to represent the country in the Olympics which will be the largest ever in tennis in Olympics from India," he said. (IANS)