New Delhi, June 11 (IANS) Veteran tennis star Leander Paes’ dream of playing in a record seventh straight Olympics came true on Saturday after he was named with Rohan Bopanna as the Indian men’s doubles team for the Rio Olympics.
Bopanna and Sania Mirza were picked for the mixed doubles while the latter will partner youngster Prarthana Thombare in women’s doubles.
Ignoring Bopanna’s request for pairing him with Saketh Myneni, the All India Tennis Association (AITA) selection committee announced the decision after its meeting here.
Bopanna, who earned a direct Olympic entry based on his World No.10 ranking in men’s doubles, on Friday took everyone by surprise when he told AITA who he preferred Myneni as his men’s doubles partner for the Rio Games starting on August 4.
In an apparent attempt to douse the fire, AITA president Anil Khanna said Bopanna respected Paes but he had his reasons to partner Myneni.
“Bopanna respects Paes, he has given us his reasons why he would prefer Myneni,” Khanna told the media.
“The men’s doubles team is more fortunate with Bopanna in the top 10 and Paes at 46. Our decision is merely based on the best medal prospect,” he added.
Bopanna, on his part, issued a statement on Saturday, reluctantly accepting the AITA’s decision.
“I have chosen Saketh based on a careful weighing of whose game will complement mine at Rio, given my own skills, strengths and weaknesses. As you will see from my track record, I have consistently had success with partners who have big weapons, a serve, a forehand.”
“In that sense, the ranking of the player in doubles is far less important than what he brings to the partnership,” Bopanna said in the statement.
“I have much admiration for Leander Paes and his many achievements, but unfortunately we have not been able to put together a good combination despite our best efforts and I do not believe our styles of play are either compatible or complementary,” he added.
“The AITA selection committee has now made its decision after due consideration of my representation and has selected the team for the Olympics. I respect this decision and look forward to participating in Rio.”
Paes recently completed a career slam after winning the French Open mixed doubles along with Swiss great Martina Hingis at the French Open last week.
Meanwhile, Sania, who had also given her preference to the AITA on Friday, is set to team up with Bopanna in the mixed-doubles category. Sania, ranked world no.1 in womens doubles, will partner youngster Prarthana Thombare, the second highest ranked Indian at 205, in Rio.
Paes was understandably elated with the AITA’s decision.
“To play for the flag has always been the greatest inspiration for me. I am humbled by the love showered upon me by the people. Their overwhelming and unconditional support has been my pillar of strength and motivation throughout my career,” he said.
“The honour to represent India at Rio Olympics 2016 is a dream come true. I am thankful to the All India Tennis Association for bestowing me this opportunity to wear the Tri-colours on my heart once again.”
Khanna hoped that Paes and Bopanna will sort out their differences when they get together in Chandigarh for the Davis Cup tie against South Korea to be played on July 15-17.
“The nation comes first. Winning an Olympic medal is the biggest achievement in sport. We want to win as many medals as possible. Now we have a chance of getting two medals, in men’s doubles and mixed doubles, thanks to Bopanna,” he said.
“All the top AITA officials will be in Chandigarh and we will also help them to resolve their differences.”
Khanna however, hoped that Saketh will prove to be an asset to Indian tennis in future.
“Saketh is a wonderful player. He will continue to play in the Davis Cup and Asian Games,” he said.
India’s Davis Cup coach Zeeshan Ali hoped that the players will gel together and find their rhythm during the build up to the South Korea tie and will be in top form going into the Rio Olympics.
“We did not have Leander in mind for the Davis Cup because he had ruled himself out earlier. But keeping Rio in mind we have included seven players instead of the usual six to accommodate Leander. That gives us a chance to interact, practice and may be he will play, maybe he will not,” Ali told IANS.
“The whole idea is to get together, prepare and get ready for the Olympics.”