New Delhi: Despite having courted controversy for their decision to name just one team for the men's double event at the London Olympics that led to both Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refusing to partner Leander Paes at the event, the All India Tennis Association looks likely to stick to its stand when it announces its decision on Thursday.
AITA on Wednesday said the possibility of sending two teams is dim as the best interest of the nation is important and not the interests of players. They added that even though all three players are deserving it is difficult to imagine a team without Leander.
"It is difficult to imagine a doubles team now without Leander (after he threatened to pull out) because if we do decide to send a team of Rohan and Mahesh then obviously Leander will not be going so India is going to have only one team in the Olympics and it is only fair that the No. 1 player should get the chance to play with the No. 2 player or No. 3 player," said AITA president Anil Khanna.
This comes after Paes threatened to pull out of the Olympics if he is paired with a junior player for the men's doubles event.
Paes wrote to AITA on Wednesday that he is not in favour of sending two teams to London. "It would not be acceptable, if with my ranking as the best Indian tennis player, I give up the best option of partner for winning a medal for my country and am made to play the Olympics with a player ranked 207 / 306 in the world while the No.13 and No. 15 ranked players form another team together based on their refusal to play with me." (Read: Leander Paes' letter to AITA threatening to withdraw from Olympics)
"If this is the case then for the sake of Indian Tennis and to relieve the AITA in regards to the selection of the team, I have no other option but to withdraw from the Olympics," he further adds. (Crisis in Indian tennis: 10 big facts)
He also hit out at Bhupathi and Bopanna saying one cannot condone the drama enacted by the two tennis players. "This decision is not taken lightly and with any rancor. 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."
Paes, however, reiterated that he is ready to partner Bhupathi or Bopanna. "I am comfortable to partner Mahesh or Rohan for the forthcoming Olympics. If Mahesh or Rohan refuse to play with me for our country, then I am happy to play with the next best player that the AITA decides on," he says.
"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.
"I have been ATP ranked at No. 1 in the world as a team and No. 7 in the world individually, for the first 6 months of 2012. By virtue of this I have got a direct entry into the Men's Doubles at the Olympics with the right to choose my partner," he added in his letter.
The AITA will make the final announcement on Thursday, which is also the last day to submit the names. They were to make the announcement on Wednesday but postponed the press-conference. (Read: Indian tennis drama lingers on till tomorrow)
Paes is also keen on partnering Sania Mirza in the Mixed Doubles event. Paes' ranking as World No. 7 and Sania's as World No. 12 gives them a combined rank of 19, which means they qualify but Mahesh, ranked 15, and she come at 27 and don't qualify directly. Paes says, "Sania and I, by virtue of our combined ranking of No. 19 on the ATP Tour have got a direct entry in the Mixed Doubles at the Olympics."
The AITA have asked for a single and doubles wildcard for Sania. India wants her to play the mixed doubles with Bhupathi, after the duo won the Mixed Doubles title at the French Open. If Bhupathi does not play the men's doubles event, he cannot play in the mixed doubles.
In its bid to end the impasse in the ongoing tennis row, the selection committee had a marathon meeting last evening.
On Tuesday, the AITA had come out in support of Paes in the row and said it was meaningless to send the veteran player to the London Olympics with a junior player after both Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refused to play with him.
The Sports Ministry, which had intervened to sort out the tennis crisis, retreated from its stance on Tuesday and said it would leave the team selection to the Tennis Association. "The Sports Ministry does not wish to be part of selection process. We had raised certain issues because of requests from certain iconic players," Sports Minister Ajay Maken said in a statement.
Following Maken's intervention, the AITA had sent a letter to the Ministry detailing its logic for picking the Paes-Bhupathi combination. The AITA explained that if it lets Bhupathi and Bopanna pair, then Paes will be forced to play with either Yuki Bhambri (ranked 306) or Vishnu Vardhan (207) since the more experienced Somdev Devvarman is injured.
Also lashing out at both Bhupathi and Bopanna, the AITA had said, "it should be understood that two players cannot make a pact with each other to keep the number one player out and publicly suggest in media that No.1 player should go to Olympics with No.5."
Last Friday, the tennis selectors had announced that only one team will be sent for the men's doubles event at the London Olympics and that will comprise of Bhupathi and Paes.
Bhupathi, however, refused to play with Paes and said: "I have already told the All India Tennis Association (AITA) that I will not be available to play the Olympics if I am paired with Leander. I haven't even spoken to Leander since November."
After Bhupathi's refusal, the AITA officially approached Bopanna but he too refused their offer. "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," he said.