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Break in serve for Paes

Indian ace takes a one-year break from national duty through personal reasons, but tennis politics could have played a part too

Saturday’s All India Tennis Association (AITA) press release stating that India’s highest Grand Slam winner (14 Slams) Leander Paes will be taking a year’s break from national duty is a bolt from the blue. Paes is set to miss the upcoming Davis Cup tie against Chinese Taipei later this month in Indore followed by the other Cup fixtures this year apart from the Asian Games in South Korea and Commmonwealth Games in Scotland.

Leander Paes
Leander Paes. Pic/AFP

Dr Vece’s letter
AITA said they received a communication from his father Dr Vece requesting that Leander be excused from national duty in 2014 as he is keen to spend more time with his family. However, there could well be a lot more than meets the eye here. It’s an open fact that India’s best ever tennis player has not been treated with due respect by the nation’s tennis authorities on a number of occasions.

Revolt in 2008
Be it in 2008, when he had to give up the Davis Cup captaincy following a revolt by his teammates Rohan Bopanna and Prakash Amritraj, supported by Mahesh Bhupathi and Karan Rastogi. Or in 2012, when both Bhupathi and Bopanna refused to partner Paes at the London Olympics, claiming they were not available for selection individually as they had teamed up together at the start of the season with a view to participating in the Olympics together. 

A lot of mud-slinging ensued, with both Bhupathi’s and Paes’ fathers speaking out for their sons on national television. The AITA eventually named two men’s doubles teams and Paes was forced to pair-up with rookie Vishnu Vardhan. A disturbed Paes had then told MiD DAY that he did not feel like the son of the soil anymore and was shocked to see dirty politics win. Sania Mirza also joined the fiasco by claiming she felt humiliated at being “put up as bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis” in the Olympics mixed doubles event.

Davis Cup set-up
The current Davis Cup set-up includes names like captain Anand Amritraj, Bopanna, Somdev Devvarman, among others. This, in all probability, does not make it a happy place for Paes to be in. While Devvarman had led a players’ revolt against AITA last year, forcing Paes to lead a depleted Indian side against South Korea in February, Anand is the uncle of Prakash, who also led a rebellion against Paes. 

The younger players in the team like Yuki Bhambri, Saketh Myneni, Jeevan Neduchezian, Sanam Singh and Vishnu Vardhan are not part of this mess, and Paes, in his communication to the AITA, has “expressed his happiness to sit out of the squad and give an opportunity to the upcoming talented pool of players to showcase their game in front of the home crowd.” 

Through his ‘break’ India will miss Paes’ vast experience in quadrennial tournaments like the Asiad and the CWG, where he has excelled. However, political games being played behind the curtains at the Great Indian Tennis Circus seem to have compelled him to stay away from the act. At least for one year! 

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