Bopanna & AITA in Unpleasant Spat Ahead of Tokyo Olympics: What Went Wrong?
India will be represented by Sania Mirza, Anita Raina and Sumit Nagal at the Tokyo Olympics.
While the Indian contingent in Tokyo settles in to the Games Village ahead of the Olympics, a war of words, or rather what could also be termed as misplaced anger at the federation, sparked off a controversy in the tennis circles, yet again.
41-year-old Rohan Bopanna and the All India Tennis Association are not on the same page with regards to participation at Tokyo. While the veteran tennis player claims the AITA misled everyone, including him, the authorities responded saying qualification for the Olympics should not have been left at the mercy of withdrawals.
Bopanna and Sania Mirza came close to a Bronze medal in Rio but had been blown away by the Czech team of Radek Stepanek and Lucie Hradecká 1-6, 6-7 in an hour and 13 minutes. However, for Tokyo, Bopanna was not a part of the draw.
Was Bopanna in line for another go at an Olympic medal and did the AITA drag their feet on getting an entry processed?
Why Did Bopanna Not Qualify for Tokyo Games Directly?
The government sponsored TOPS supported Bopanna and partner Divij Sharan missed out on qualification for the men’s doubles event at Tokyo due to a low combined ranking of 113, Bopanna (38) and Sharan’s (75) entry would depend only on large scale withdrawals.
In effect, Bopanna’s chances of a trip to Japan were extremely slim because he and Sharan were the fifth alternates (standbys) in case of withdrawals from the main draw.
“The ITF has confirmed that Bopanna and Divij could not be entered as a team in the men’s doubles team. However, things might change till 16 July (if there are more withdrawals),” an AITA official had been quoted as saying by PTI on 30 June.
“(ITF) is updating us as and when there are withdrawals. Today should be the last day, they can still reach,” AITA general secretary Anil Dhupar was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.
“For Rohan, we’ve already got his accreditation, he only has to fly. We’re just waiting for the ITF to say that he’s qualified,” he added.
How Does Sumit Nagal Affect the Situation?
On 16 July, when Sumit Nagal was handed a ticket to Tokyo in the men’s singles, after large scale withdrawals, AITA hoped to add Bopanna in the mix, men’s doubles with Nagal, and wrote to the International Tennis Federation as singles players would get priority in terms of filling the draw for the doubles.
AITA saw their request turned down by the ITF, who said doubles nominations could not be changed unless there was an injury or illness. In effect, a pairing between Nagal and Bopanna was not possible, but AITA was clearly intent on not leaving any stone unturned in their quest for a medal.
ITF, as reported, also stated that the pairing of Nagal and Bopanna would have a combined ranking of 182 with two other pairs already on the reserve list for the men’s doubles event in case of a withdrawal.
At the time, there were seven hours to go for the deadline, for adding new players to the draw – which meant a massive number of withdrawals in a short period of time would be needed to open the door for Bopanna to join Nagal in Tokyo.
What is the Qualification Process?
The AITA requested the ITF, who turned it down for the same reason that saw Bopanna not qualify for the Olympics initially – ranking. And that new players could only be added if there was illness or injury, which meant while Nagal would play his singles, Bopanna’s only hope was to play with Sharan.
Qualification in doubles is based on rankings and those players with a doubles top 10 rank are given direct entries with any compatriot of their choice (provided the partner is ranked in the top 300).
For a team to be directly accepted into the doubles draw, the combined rank would need to be in the region of 70 and the Indian pairing were at least 40 ranks away from qualification.
According to the ITF rules, priority for making it to the doubles would first be given to singles ranked players, then the singles-doubles combination and then the doubles-doubles ranking combination.
Who Said What?
Disappointed with the situation, Bopanna took to social media alleging that he had been misled, claiming that AITA was well aware they would not make it but still said that there was a chance.
“ITF has never accepted an entry for Sumit Nagal & myself. ITF was clear that no changes were allowed after the nomination deadline (22 June) unless Injury/illness. AITA has misled the players, government, media, and everyone else by stating we still have a chance. @AnurajR1,” Bopanna tweeted.
Bopanna's comments came on the back of reports that AITA requested ITF to pair up Nagal and him for the doubles after the youngster made the cut for the singles event.
AITA were clutching onto the straws of the rule book as they hoped to give India another route to a medal round, after Bopanna and Sharan had failed to seal a direct berth with their combined doubles ranking.
Adding support for Bopanna was Sania Mirza, wherein she tweeted that “we have sacrificed a very good shot at a medal”. Interestingly, Sania and Bopanna could have teamed up at Tokyo, only if the latter was part of one of the draws.
In response to the flurry of reactions from players and angry fans AITA said in a statement, “Rohan Bopanna could not have qualified as per ITF Rules. Therefore Sania Mirza's tweet is also baseless and coming from a player of her stature, is condemnable. Fact of the matter is that India's best entry was sent for Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan, which was the correct decision. However, they did not qualify as per ITF rules. Our players' rankings were not good enough for direct qualification, and we made all efforts to get them in. Rohan and Divij were fifth on alternate list on 16th July. Only on 16th July, when Sumit Nagal got a chance in Singles, we saw a possibility, since singles players were also being considered, of Sumit being able to partner with Rohan. We asked ITF whether the entry of Sumit Nagal will suffice to pair with Rohan Bopanna for an entry into Men’s Doubles. ITF informed us that this cannot be done at this stage because of various reasons and rules. Even if it is done, the pair would still not qualify.”
What Will Indian Tennis at Tokyo Look Like?
Even as tempers flew to start off a week where the sporting fraternity is looking east for the biggest and grandest show off all, India’s hopes for a tennis medal rests on the shoulders of Sumit Nagal, Sania Mirza and Ankita Raina only.
The two youngsters are playing their first Olympic Games while Sania is at her fourth. Since 1992, when Leander Paes and Ramesh Krishnan played in Barcelona, India have always had a men’s doubles pair at the Olympics, with Mahesh Bhupathi partnering Paes most of the time. In 2016, Paes and Bopanna competed and lost in the first round.
(With various inputs)
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