Leander Paes is hoping that there will be not be repeat of a selection fiasco ahead of the Rio Olympics and feels he deserves to be paired with Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza for the men's and mixed doubles events. (Leander Paes Appointed Global Brand Ambassador of Legendari Group)
Recalling the drama ahead of 2012 London Olympics when Bopanna and Mahesh Bhupathi refused to pair with him, Paes said dirty politics was played at that time and it should not happen this time around. (Sania Mirza, Leander Paes Dominate Doubles Events in 2015)
"I hope that does not happen again in doubles or mixed doubles. I believe, selection should be on merit. To win three mixed doubles Grand Slams in 2015 leading to the Olympic year I certainly hope that I am India's front runner in Rio in mixed doubles," Paes said today as he geared up to open his 2016 campaign at the Chennai Open.
"In men's doubles I believe the best team is Rohan and myself and likewise in mixed doubles it is Sania and myself. The fact is that neither (Sania and Rohan) has made any of the finals in mixed doubles in 2015. That being said, having won nine mixed doubles both on the deuce court and Ad-court - I have won it on both side. I am adaptable to both sides. Also remember that we have won an Asian Games medal together," 43-year-old Paes asserted.
Asked if he approached Bopanna for a partnership this season, leading upto Games, Paes said he did.
"I had asked Rohan whether he would like to partner me in Chennai Open and other tournaments coming to the Olympics. But, it seems he is set with his partnerships and he was not keen on my offer. I do feel it is important to play a few tournaments together in an Olympic year. I tried to do it in 2012 but unfortunately as that panned out, it was in complete shambles."
Paes said he also spoke to Sania for forging mixed doubles partnership for the Rio Games.
"I have spoken with her a few times. Without shadow of a doubt when one goes by merit, winning three Grand Slams leading to the Olympics kind of speaks for itself."
However he clarified that he did not offer to play with Sania on the Tour this season since he was not keen to break his successful team with Swiss legend Martina Hingis as they won three Grand Slam trophies in 2015.
"To win three Grand Slams of four, you do not want to break that as it is not a bad achievement. Hence, Martina Hingis is one of the greatest partners that I have had. She is one of the legends of the game and a great partner too. So, I am playing with her in the Aussie Open.
"I hope that another shambles of selection does not happen. This coming summer, I think by about March or April, really is when the nominations go in. Regardless of what happens in the Aussie Open, U.S. Open and French Open this year, you look at the number of Grand Slams that I have won and also the men's grand slams. I have in all won 33 Grand Slams. Think on merit, I should get a call."
Asked what will he do, if he does not get the combination of his choice, Paes replied ,"I will continue my journey."
"No one can take my history away. Do what you want, my journey is my journey. I respect the game of tennis. I respect playing for India, tri-color flag, I respect playing for our people. My journey will remain mine no matter what other nonsense happens, it is for the people to answer."
Paes said he has already spoken to AITA officials about Rio selection.
"I have had couple of conversations with them already this year as far as the Rio Olympics go. I had made it clear that mixed doubles is a real true chance of winning a medal for India especially because of the hard court surface. Mixed doubles is a real chance for Sania and myself to win a medal. If we are not given the chance for whatever non-sensical reason there is, unfortunately the people and the flag and the country lose out on winning a medal. If that farce is going to play out again God help all of us."
Paes though felt that there were indications that Bopanna and Sania are planning to compete together.
"Such indications are always there. But, at the end of the day all of us in sporting fraternity know what happened in 2012. At that time, I felt that basically politics came in and played its part in a very dirty manner. That being said, it should not be there in sport. I know the people that were behind it and I am not going to name them."
Paes asserted that age should not a criteria when it comes to selection.
"It is not about age. Age has nothing to do with it. Martina Navratilova and Martina Hinges are still playing. Navratilova won a Grand Slam when she was 49 or 50 years old. So age is not the criteria. It is about history, experience and form and hence merit. In my opinion, the best team should be fielded and go forward. "
Paes also argued that Sania did not reach a single Grand Slam final in 2015 while he won three with Hingis.Â Â Â Â
"Sania is number one in the world in women's doubles. In mixed doubles she has not got into a final even (in 2015). Let us be very clear on this. And, I beat Rohan pretty convincingly at the US Open in mixed doubles and he was playing the ad side of the court."
Paes also made it clear that he would not retire after Rio Games irrespective of the result.
"I will be lying to you to say that I won't be tempted to retire if I win an Olympic medal at Rio. But also I will say that I work really hard on my fitness on my mind and to stop right in the middle of a season, is not my style. I am very strong on my commitments. When I commit to my partner that I am playing the whole season then I will play the whole season barring injury. I am a man of my word."