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Bopanna vs Paes: 18-Time Grand Slam Champ or ‘World Number 10’?

An 18-time Grand Slam champion on a red-hot streak or the one who’s never even played an Olympic Games?

Updated
Sports
3 min read
Leander Paes may be watching the Rio Olympics from home, if Rohan Bopanna has his way.

As things stand, India can send only one men’s doubles, one women’s doubles and one mixed doubles pair to the Rio Olympics.

Also, as things stand, a player who has never won a Grand Slam in his career has the power to exclude a current holder of four Grand Slam titles and 18 career Slams, from representing India at the Rio Olympics.

In clearer words, Rohan Bopanna informed the All India Tennis Association (AITA) on Friday that he did not want to partner Leander Paes at the Rio Olympics. Instead, he put Saketh Myneni’s name forward. The world number 10 has the luxury of calling the shots since he is the only Indian man to meet the direct qualification mark for the mega event this August.

His wishes could be granted, if only the All India Tennis Association wasn’t involved.

To be eligible to compete in the Olympic Tennis Event at Rio 2016, all athletes must be in good standing with their National Association and the International Tennis Federation.
ITF’s qualification requirement for the Olympics

‘In good standing with their National Association’ roughly translates to ‘the ultimate decision is the home association’s, so don’t mess with them’.

Clearly, Bopanna’s decision to partner the world number 125, instead of the 46th placed player, who just bagged four Grand Slams in a row, was not one he made in haste.

After all, it took him at least two stressful Tweets to decide.

Sania Mirza too joined in on the fun...

Super Sania’s Current State

The women’s doubles world number 1 has concerns of her own though. While she gets to chose her partner for Rio, India’s kitty of women’s doubles players is even lighter than what the men’s draw has to offer.

Prarthana Thombare is currently placed 209th in the world and is the India number 2. Sania, in fact, has even been helping Thombare train for the Games; the rookie has set camp at the Sania Mirza Tennis Academy for the last year, prepping under her father and coach Imran Mirza.

Sania’s biggest medal hope, however, will be in the mixed doubles draw with Rohan Bopanna, a partnership that has been mutually agreed to. However, if Rohan does decide to drag on the controversy with the AITA, it could affect the pair’s chances of playing together. Much like how it panned out in London 2012, when Sania was eventually forced to partner Leander despite protests, after Rohan and Mahesh teamed up in the men’s doubles draw.

India, remember, won no medals in tennis in London.
Also remember, a mixed doubles pair cannot represent a country till both a men’s doubles and women’s doubles team is participating.

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Rohan Bopanna released this statement on his social media pages on Friday, one day before the selection meeting.
Rohan Bopanna released this statement on his social media pages on Friday, one day before the selection meeting.

AITA Selection Meeting on Saturday

Even as the players put forward their preferences with Bopanna making a clear mention of the ‘right to nominate my doubles partner,’ the AITA meeting tomorrow is sure to ruffle a few feathers.

They may have conceded when Mahesh Bhupathi, a player of great Grand Slam pedigree, was demanding to play with Rohan Bopanna in London. But 2016 is a different story altogether.

Rohan might be placed 10th in the world, but this is after all only his second Olympics ever. Leander, on the other hand, is gunning to play his seventh straight Games. Saketh has featured in none.

Bopanna has never won a Grand Slam title. Neither has Myneni. Paes has a total of 18 Slams in his trophy cabinet, including the last four in a row, with Martina Hingis.

Leander is counted among the greatest doubles players of all time, having held the world number 1 ranking for a long stretch. Rohan has never risen higher than number 3, Saketh has never been in the top 100 – staggering stats that the Federation is unlikely to ignore.

It’s not a wise move. People are not going to forget if Paes happens to miss this Olympics because of Rohan... he will face lots of criticism. You can’t ignore Leander, who has experience of playing on the big stage. Our best team should play and Rohan and Leander, our number and two players should play as a team.
AITA official to PTI
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All this, and Indian tennis’ now traditional pre-Olympics drama’s newest edition is only just getting started.

The last date to send the final entries is 5 August 2016.

Put on your seat belts!

(The Quint is available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

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