New Delhi: National tennis selector Rohit Rajpal, who will be in London on a personal visit, has been asked by the All India Tennis Association (AITA) to meet Leander Paes and persuade him to accept in the "national interest" the formula of sending two men's doubles teams to the London Olympics.
Just before boarding the flight Friday afternoon, Rajpal told IANS that he was not going to London as an AITA emissary and that he had planned the business trip long back.
Rajpal said when AITA president Anil Khanna came to know of his London trip, he asked if he could meet and explain to Paes the sequence of events that made the association accept the formula of sending two doubles teams for the Games - teaming up Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna and pairing Paes, the highest ranked Indian (No. 7), with the 207-ranked Vishnu Vardhan.
Rajpal said he and Paes were contemporaries from their junior days and had been good friends.
"Paes and I played around the same time and we have a good equation. If I can be of some help in clearing the air, I shall certainly do so - more as a long-standing friend than as a selector," Rajpal told IANS.
Rajpal is expected to tell Paes that he need not have any apprehension about his pairing with Sania Mirza after Khanna's unequivocal announcement that the combination will not and cannot be changed once submitted to the London Games organisers.
Paes was clearly unhappy with the arrangement arrived at after a series of meetings involving, among others, External Affairs Minister S.M.Krishna, who is the honorary life president of the AITA, and Sports Minister Ajay Maken. Sources close to him maintain that he has not made up his mind on playing in the Olympics.
Paes had said on Wednesday that he would withdraw from the London Games if forced to compete with a lower ranked player, in this case Vishnu Vardhan, while allowing Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna have their way and team up.
The AITA president, while announcing on Thursday that two teams would be fielded, said he was sure that Paes would see reason and play in a record sixth Olympics.
Khanna said in as many words that Paes should be happy to be partnering Sania in the mixed doubles and that gives him another chance of winning a medal at the Olympics to add to his singles bronze from the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Khanna felt that with their combined ranking of 19, Paes and Sania had a good chance of making it to the mixed doubles as one of the 12 direct entries after going through all available and possible combinations from around the globe.
However, Sania's own stand is not clear on the matter as she had said her preferred choice was Bhupathi though she was fine playing with Paes if paired with him.
Khanna made no secret of his unhappiness at the formula thrust upon the association and in a carefully worded statement told Paes that the decision was unfair to him.
"The AITA agrees that this decision is unfair to India's No.1 and world No.7 player Leander Paes. AITA holds Leander in very high esteem and appeals to him to accept this decision in the best interest of the nation. We are confident that Leander will not disappoint us as he has done yeoman service to the nation over the last 25 years," said Khanna, in a prepared statement.
For their part, Bopanna and Bhupathi said they were delighted and excited at the prospect of playing together at the Olympics, and would focus on the preparations for the Games. For both Bopanna and Vishnu Vardhan, this will be their first Olympics.