Leander Paes Returns, Yuki Bhambri Gets Exemption From Asian Games
Paes, who has won eight medals at the previous editions of Asian Games, has not competed in the prestigious quadrennial event since winning the men's doubles gold with Mahesh Bhupathi and mixed doubles gold with Sania Mirza at the 2006 Doha Games.
The iconic Leander Paes today made a comeback to the Asian Games-bound Indian squad while Yuki Bhambri was "exempted" as AITA threw its weight behind country's top singles player in his quest for Grand Slam glory. Paes, who has won eight medals at the previous editions of Asian Games, has not competed in the prestigious quadrennial event since winning the men's doubles gold with Mahesh Bhupathi and mixed doubles gold with Sania Mirza at the 2006 Doha Games. The AITA backed Yuki in skipping the Games in Indonesia, where tennis events will begin on August 19, saying there are not many Indians competing in the singles at Grand Slams, thus, "the boy must be supported." Yuki, ranked 94, is expected to make the cut for the US Open and since the tennis events in Indonesia will conclude only two days before the New York Grand Slam begins on August 27, he could not have possibly recovered for the marquee event.
The selection committee chose to pick three singles specialists - Ramkumar Ramanathan, Prajnesh Gunneswaran, Sumit Nagal - and three doubles specialists - Paes, Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan in the men's squad. The women's squad will be led by leading singles player Ankita Raina.
Karman Kaur Thandi, Rutuja Bhosale, Pranjala Yadlapalli, Riya Bhatia and Prarthana Thombare are the other players. All of them were chosen based on their rankings. India's Davis Cup captain Mahesh Bhupathi had requested to be excused from the job and the AITA obliged.
Zeeshan Ali was named the coach-cum-captain of the men's squad while the women's team will be guided by Fed Cup captain Ankita Bhambri. Zeeshan told PTI that he will take a call on various combinations, only close to the Games after assessing players' form and fitness.
Giving the reasoning behind three singles players and not just two since India can send only two entries, Zeeshan explained:"God forbid, if some injury happens to Ramkumar or Prajnesh, Sumit can chip in and play the singles. He can also play doubles."
"We did discuss the option of picking four doubles players to field two specialist pairs but these doubles players can't play singles, if needed. That's why we chose three singles players, who can also play doubles if required."
Talking about Yuki's exemption, AITA secretary Hironmoy Chatterjee said,"The last Indian player who played Grand Slam singles was Somdev Devvarman. Now that this boy (Yuki) has got an opportunity to compete at the highest level, he needs to be supported."
In the last edition, both Anand Amritraj and Zeeshan had gone as support staff members but this time the latter has been entrusted with both the jobs.
Asked for the reason, Chatterjee said they are only following guidelines.
"Only 20 per cent of the total size of a team can travel with the team as others (support staff). In our case we have 12 players, so 20 percent is three. But we requested them to accommodate at least two captains and two physios for our two teams."
When asked if young players such as Vishnu Vardhan, Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan or N Sriram Balaji were discussed as a possible inclusion for doubles, selection committee member Rohit Rajpal said,"ranking was the main criteria." "These players are doing a good job but Leander is still ranked higher than them. His records speak for him. With his experience, he still is a very strong contender for a medal," Rajpal said. Paes has won a singles bronze and men's team gold (at Hiroshima 1994), three gold medals in men's doubles (1994 with Gaurav Natekar) and with Mahesh Bhupathi in Busan (2002) and Doha (2006) respectively. India's most celebrated doubles player also won a mixed doubles bronze (2002) and gold (2006) with Sania Mirza along with a team bronze at the Beijing edition in 1990.