New Delhi: The Indian tennis row continues to get murkier. After both Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refused to partner Leander Paes in the men's doubles at the London Olympics and continued to battle against All India Tennis Association's decision to not pair them together, Paes has expressed disappointment at their stand.
"I have been informed that both Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna have refused to play with me at the London Olympics. This is unfortunate, as we have laid down our differences in the past and had a successful doubles partnership on the ATP Tour and in the Davis Cup. (READ PAES' LETTER HERE)
The veteran player added in the letter that sending two teams to the Olympics, something the sports ministry has asked AITA to consider, would pair him up with a much lower ranked player and that would be unfair on him.
"When I sent you my unconditional participation in the Olympics, I believed we would put our best team forward for a Gold Medal. By setting up a second team as suggested by some u would create a situation where your no.1 player and the only Indian in the Top Ten ATP Doubles Rankings would have to play with the no. 5 Indian player. This would not be fair," said Paes.
Earlier in the day, the sports ministry lashed out at AITA for being adamant on sending one team for the men's doubles event at the London Olympics when India can send two teams.
However, despite sending the letter to AITA, sports minister Ajay Maken told NDTV that his ministry will only play an advisory role in the whole issue.
"Whatever we will do it will be advisory in nature because I strongly feel that sports ministry does not have a role in selecting the team," he said.
He added that the ministry was forced to write to AITA due to the closing deadline to submit the players' names.
"I wouldn't have liked to intervene even now, this is something which since 21st is the last date (for submitting the team) and today is 18th so we had no time so it is as a last resort that we wrote a letter to AITA," said Maken.
Bopanna wrote to AITA Monday morning, making it clear that he cannot combine with Paes although it is his "dream to represent India in Olympics".
He also sent a joint letter with Mahesh Bhupathi to the sports ministry. (READ THE LETTER HERE)
The ministry thereby intervened and shot a letter to the association asking the reason behind picking one team for the London Games and why weren't Bopanna and Bhupathi informed earlier that only one team would be sent. (READ MINISTRY'S LETTER TO AITA)
"The Government has been funding and supporting multiple players to train and qualify for the Olympics. The justification of denying two players who have qualified as a team on merit by sending just one Indian team, when India can send two teams may be explained," the ministry letter said.
"Both Shri Mahesh Bhupathi and Shri Rohan Bopanna have officially declined the opportunity to play with Shri Leander Paes in the current scenario. With two days left for the deadline, wouldn't AITA be sending Paes with a youngster to represent India at London Olympics. The aforesaid action of AITA is depriving India of sending another team to London Olympics. The reasons for this may be explained.
"Besides being the highest ranked Indian pair playing on the tour, why has Shri Mahesh Bhupathi and Shri Rohan Bopanna combined world ranking and subsequent nomination as a team being ignored by AITA may be elaborated," it questioned the AITA.
"In AITA's communication dated 10th March, 2012 to Mahesh and Rohan, they were not informed by AITA that only the number one player would be sent to represent India and the combined team ranking would be ignored. The reasons for this may be explained.
"It is not clear as to why is AITA insisting on sending a team that has represented India in four previous Olympic Games, especially when the team of Leander and Mahesh have returned empty handed each time and when both have openly voiced their concerns about playing together. This may also be explained.
"It may also be intimated whether the AITA had spoken to all three players mentioned above and consulted them and whether their opinion have been taken before arriving at the decision," it added.
The tennis fight has also brought two factions who never saw eye to eye on any issue, closer together as the Indian Olympic Association seems to agree with the sports ministry on sending two teams for the Olympics.
IOA president Suresh Kalmadi in a release has said, "As two teams have qualified in Tennis for the Olympics, I think that in National interest both the teams should be sent. I support the Sports Minister's stand as it involves the prestige of the country. I hope the All India Tennis Association would change it's stand with a view to get maximum medals for India."
Meanwhile, after Bhupathi's stubborn refusal to team up with Paes, Bopanna's stand has put the AITA in a fix after it made the controversial decision to nominate the long-feuding Lee-Hesh for the Games next month.
Bopanna said he was approached by the AITA with a request to pair with Paes as the AITA's 'second choice' team.
"With all respect and humility, I have been unable to accept AITA's offer and have communicated my decision to them in writing this morning," Bopanna said in a statement.
Bopanna said the very basis of his forming a team with Bhupathi was to play in Olympics together and the tennis body not only knew about it, but encouraged them.
The big-serving player, who is in demand from both Bhupathi and Paes for the London Games, also said that he and Paes do not make a good pair and their partnership is unlikely to yield any result.
"Since the beginning of the year, I have partnered with Mahesh Bhupathi towards playing together as a team at the Olympics. This was communicated to the AITA at every step and we were encouraged to continue to play together.
"Having played alongside Leander Paes only twice during my career, I recognise that as a team we are under-prepared for the demands of the Olympics and, in good faith, I could not accept AITA's offer that we play together."
Bopanna conceded that his decision would not go down well with many but he won't risk his professional integrity for a shot at the Olympics.
"I believe we are nothing but the product of our choices," he said.
Taking a dig a Paes, who broke his partnership with Bhupathi last year to stay inside ATP top-10 with a different partner, Bopanna said he also could have taken an easy route by continuing his team with Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi but did not do that.
"In October 2011, I broke up an extremely successful partnership with Aisam Qureshi as I believed that Olympics preparedness required hard work and understanding between partners and the numerous little adjustments that make a team work.
"This was the toughest professional decision I have taken, as it signified an end to a great partnership and jeopardised a close friendship that was built over many years of struggle and, ultimately, success on the ATP Tour."
"Having been ranked No. 8 in the world last year, I could have taken a far easier route to Olympics qualification - if that was my only goal - by continuing my existing partnership and aiming for a personal top-10 ranking.
"However, I am an athlete who believes that outcomes are a product of process and preparation. I also believe that successful partnerships of every sort require investment of time and emotions through the ups and downs, and that sporting partnerships are no different," he said.
Paes and Bhupathi had once been India's most prolific doubles combination, but the relationship has been marred by many splits and they have been much more apart than together as years have gone by.
(With PTI inputs)