New Delhi, June 21: Putting an end to speculation, AITA today worked out a compromise formula by agreeing to pair Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna for the men's doubles and teamed up Leander Paes with Sania Mirza for the mixed doubles event of the London Olympics.
With the tennis feud spilling out in public, the All India Tennis Association (AITA), which had taken a tough stand against Bhupathi and Bopanna, finally yielded by deciding to send two teams to next month's Games, saying it was a “calculated risk”.
Despite Paes' pullout threat on being paired with a junior player, AITA chose 206th ranked Vishnu Vardhan as his partner for the men's doubles and hoped that he will abide by the decision.
The AITA decision means that Bhupathi, who is paired with desired partner Bopanna, will have to miss the mixed doubles event.
Sania, whose participation depends on wild card, had wished to be paired with Bhupathi since they gel well as a team but said she was ready to play with any player that AITA chooses.
Paes, who was keen to play men's doubles with a senior pro such as Bhupathi or Bopanna, will now have a shot at a medal in the mixed doubles with Sania.
Put in a quandary, after the three top players threatened to opt out of the mega event, AITA conceded that its decision was “not fair” in all respects but was in the “best interest of the nation”.
AITA came out in wholesome praise of Paes, describing him as patriotic and appealed to him to partner Vardhan.
“In the given circumstances, the best option is of sending two teams. We are fully aware that Leander Paes, our great tennis player and undoubtedly the most patriotic one,
who has the record of most David Cup appearances for India and has served the nation for over 25 years, had been driven to the wall and had to react sharply yesterday much against his true character,” AITA President Anil Khanna told reporters.
“AITA does not want Leander's image to be tarnished. AITA now requests Leander to forgive the utterances (against him by Bhupathi and Bopanna). We request Leander to reverse his thoughts and he should help Bopanna and Vishnu to succeed in their first Olympics,” he added.
This has ended 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,” Khanna said.
The AITA chief said, “Under the complicated circumstances, this is the most balanced decision. I am sure we will be able to convince Paes to play. It's a calculated risk. We did not want to be harsh on Bhupathi and Bopanna at this stage.”
“It will be a disaster, it will be a nightmare for all of us, if Paes refuses. Initially he may have reservations but he should agree.”
Khanna claimed that their decision was not a climbdown.
“We were not pressurised. It's not a climbdown. We do not
sit on egos. It was not an easy decision. It's most wonderful in the circumstances. Now all top four players will have a medal chance and Vishnu and Rushmi (if she gets wild card with Sania) will get a chance to play Olympics.”
Asked whether AITA had condoned the conduct of Bhupathi and Bopanna, Khanna said it is not a closed chapter.
“A code of conduct for the players will be implemented after the Olympics. We will discuss it after the Games.”
In London, Bhupathi and Bopanna were delighted to be paired together, saying the developments in the last few days were “extremely challenging”.