Leander Paes has finally broken his silence in the ongoing saga involving Mahesh Bhupathi, Rohan Bopanna and himself.
Hard times: Leander Paes Pic/Getty Images
“Nobody can hold the country to ransom,” Paes told MiD DAY from London yesterday in reference to Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna’s refusal to pair up with him despite the All India Tennis Association’s orders. The AITA selection committee recently picked Bhupathi (ranked No 14 in ATP’s individual ranking in doubles) to partner No 7 Paes (an automatic qualifier for the Games given his Top 10 ranking) at next month’s London Olympics. However, Bhupathi refused to do so, claiming that he and Rohan Bopanna (No 12) had teamed up at the start of the season with a view to playing together at the Olympics. AITA is then said to have approached Bopanna who was Paes’ original choice as partner, but even he turned down the association.
It is this arrogance that has irked the five-time Olympian. “We cannot afford to let anyone dictate terms in this manner. If we do, we will be setting a bad example to the future sportsmen and women of our country,” added Paes.
Meanwhile, the ongoing Lee-Hesh fiasco took yet another twist yesterday with Paes categorically telling the AITA in a strongly worded letter that he “would have no other option but to withdraw from the Olympics” if told to partner a “player ranked 207/306 while the No 13 and No 15 ranked players form another team together” based on their refusal to play with him.
It is learnt that Paes has been under tremendous pressure from all quarters in the last 24 hours to change his stance of partnering either Bhupathi or Bopanna and instead form what would be a second Indian men’s doubles team at the Olympics with a lower ranked player. However, yesterday, the 1996 Olympics bronze medal-winner once again made his preference of partner clear to the AITA. “Representing India at the Olympics is a cherished dream, and one in which I have agreed to participate unconditionally, with the understanding that we would aim to put our best team forward and target a medal. And coming back to the men’s doubles, I am comfortable to partner Mahesh or Rohan for the forthcoming Olympics,” he wrote.
Finally, the former India Davis Cup captain didn’t fall short of even calling for a reprimand for Bhupathi and Bopanna. “We cannot be condoning or rewarding the drama enacted by Mahesh and Rohan. This would be a bad precedent for current and future sports persons (particularly tennis players) in our country,” wrote Paes.