The All India Tennis Association has finally bit the bullet and announced two men's doubles teams for the London Olympics, pairing Leander Paes with a lower-ranked Vishnu Vardhan and Mahesh Bhupathi with Rohan Bopanna.
Giving the decision, which it itself termed "unfair" on world number 7 Paes, AITA has allowed Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna to team up for the London event after both of them adamantly refused to partner the 39-year-old veteran.
"In the given circumstances, the best option is of sending two teams. Undoubtedly the most patriotic one, who has the record of most David Cup appearances for India and has served the nation for over 20 years, had been driven to the wall and had to react sharply," AITA President Anil Khanna said referring to Paes' threat of a pullout in case of being paired with a junior partner.
"AITA does not want Leander's image to be tarnished. AITA asks Leander to forgive the utterances (against him by Bhupathi and Bopanna).
"Leander Paes and Vishnu Vardhan (ranked 207) and Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna will be the two teams. We request Leander to reverse to his thoughts and he should help Bopanna and Vishnu to succeed in their first Olympics," he added ending speculation of Paes being paired with Somdev Devvarman, who is recovering from a shoulder injury.
"This decision is unfair to India No. 1 (Paes). AITA holds Leander in very high esteem. We are confident that Leander won't disappoint us as he has done yeoman's service to the game."
But in a decision that is bound to go down not so well with Bhupathi, the body has decided to break his Australian Open and most recently French Open-winning partnership with Sania Mirza in mixed doubles.
Khanna said Sania, in case she gets a wildcard for the Olympics on June 28, will partner Paes as the duo's combined ranking ensures a direct entry to the mega event.
But the big question is will Paes accept the decision? There is no confirmation yet from Paes, who is the highest ranked Indian (no. 7 in ATP doubles ratings). Dr Vece Paes, Leander's father, told NDTV: "Compromise formula is what was offered yesterday - Leander said he would not accept it. Now a question of his principles...his emotions would want him to play, his principles would say no."
Paes had written to the AITA yesterday: "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."
Bhupathi and Paes have not spoken since November. When asked why he did not want to partner with Paes, Bhupathi said: "I'm not really interested in just playing the Olympics. I'm interested in doing you know as well as possible. Last four times we did play we didn't win. Hopefully this time a different combination can do something different."
Vishnu, on the other hand, told NDTV: "I'm very happy to be playing with Leander. I've grown up watching Leander. What he has done for the country is huge."
Vishnu had won a bronze in men's doubles at the 2010 Asian Games and a silver medal in the mixed doubles event with Sania Mirza.
(With PTI inputs)