New Delhi: In a move which could have knocked Leander Paes out of Olympic reckoning, Rohan Bopanna today picked Saketh Myneni as his preferred partner for the men's doubles event at the Rio Games, but the AITA is set to reject his demand.
Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes
Bopanna, who earned India a direct entry in the men's doubles event courtesy his top-10 rank, issued a statement that he has told AITA about his choice earlier in the day.
"I look forward to representing India at my second Olympics and consider it a privilege, responsibility and honour. A Direct Acceptance provides me the right to nominate my men's doubles partner, an opportunity for me to exercise my judgement as to the best possible partner for me. I am looking forward to the support and good wishes of all concerned in the lead-up to the Olympics," Bopanna said in a statement.
He did not mention the name of the player but AITA sources told PTI that Bopanna has named 28-year-old Myneni as his choice. "Yes, he wants to play with Myneni and not Leander," an AITA source said.
Paes, a winner of 18 Grand Slam titles, is eyeing a record seventh Olympics, but Bopanna's choice reflects that he does not bother about the personal milestone of India's most accomplished tennis player.
Bopanna is justified in picking a partner of his choice since rules permit him to do so but at the same time it holds true that even if Bopanna had ended 11 in the world rankings on the cut-off date, he and Paes with their combined rank would have made the draw.
Sources claimed AITA acknowledged Bopanna's preference but it is understood they would not like the player to dictate terms. "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," said an AITA official.
"Leander, ranked 46, is number two player in the country and Saketh is fifth at number 125. Saketh is a good player. He has made progress but 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."
ITF rules clearly state that a doubles team has to be nominated by the national association. Unless AITA approves Myneni and Bopanna as a team, they can not play. It will not be a surprise if AITA's selection committee goes ahead with Bopanna, Paes, Sania Mirza and Prarthana Thombare as India's Olympics team.
Like Bopanna, Sania has also communicated to AITA that she prefers to play mixed doubles with Bopanna. AITA will not counter Sania on her choice and will let the two compete in the mixed doubles.
Sania will play women's doubles with young Thombare, the country's number 2 doubles player ranked 209. She has been training for the last one year at Sania Mirza Tennis Academy, under the guidance of Sania's father and coach Imran. AITA had made efforts to convince Bopanna that he accepts Paes as his partner but the 36-year-old stuck to his guns and decided not to pick him as his partner.
The AITA selection committee tomorrow now has a tough task to do as it would want all the players to be happy going into the Olympics.