Bitter feud among three players, national tennis organization
(June 23, 2012) -- The Bollywood drama that is Indian tennis had one of its most bizarre weeks to date, ramping up on Saturday with calls to the country's prime minister to intervene and the controversial Leander Paes smack dab in the middle of it.
On Thursday, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) announced it would send two men's doubles teams to the 2012 Olympics in London, one composed of No. 13 Mahesh Bhupathi and No. 15 Rohan Bopanna, the other of the seventh-ranked Paes and No. 209 Vishnu Vardhan.
Late Thursday, Paes blasted the decision by the AITA.
"I am at a loss for words right now. I'm shocked that we have given in to dirty politics. My ranking [World No. 7] makes me the country's highest ranked tennis player and afforded me the right to chose my partner, but due to two people [Bhupathi and Bopanna] holding the country to ransom, my Olympic dream is in jeopardy," Paes told a London newspaper on Thursday.
Paes partnered with Bhupathi from 1999-2001 and again in 2011. The pair won three Grand Slam titles early in their playing days, but had a public falling out. Paes has played with Bopanna, one-half of the successful "Indo-Pak Express" in 2007 and 2012.
At the beginning of the 2012 season, Bopanna and Bhupathi announced their ambition to play as doubles partners and pursue a gold medal. The two released a joint statement on Fridy which read: "We are delighted to have been nominated as a team to the Men's Doubles event at the Games of the XXX Olympiad. The events of the last few days have been extremely challenging for all concerned, but we respect them as necessary steps in this process."
When news began to circulate that Paes would be paired with the 24-year-old Vardhan, who has played exactly one match at the ATP level in his career, he sent a fierce letter to the AITA.
The letter concluded with: "The sad part of this whole episode is that people who should have ideally been penalised by the federation are, in fact, being promoted by that very federation. Today, I don't feel like the son of the soil anymore." On Saturday, India's major sports promoter chairman, Sahra Group's Subrata Roy, threw his support behind Paes and blasted the AITA's decision in a prepared statement.
"A best bet of getting a medal in Olympics has been smashed due to nasty politics of some irresponsible big individuals of India," Roy's statement read. "I appeal (to) our beloved Prime Minister to do justice for the country and Leander Paes and kindly punish such people who are anti-national."
Paes painted himself as the victim just days after threatening to back out of the Olympics altogether if he was not afforded the right to be the sole mixed doubles partner of Sania Mirza. That pairing was also confirmed by the AITA on Thursday.
The 39-year-old Paes has India's only medal in tennis ever, winning a bronze in men's singles in 1996.
He has a long history with Bhupathi, which netted him three Grand Slam titles between 1999 and 2001. The partnership was shattered, allegedly over a woman, in the early part of the 2000s, although the pair continued to play together in the Olympics and in Davis Cup action. They reunited on the ATP in an attempt to complete the career Grand Slam by winning the Australian Open in 2011, but the attempt failed as they lost the championship match. Paes completed the career goal in 2012 by partnering with Radek Stepanek.