New Delhi, June 20: The tennis imbroglio worsened today with Leander Paes threatening to withdraw from the London Olympics if he is paired with a lower-ranked player, forcing AITA to defer the team announcement till tomorrow.
Paes has communicated to All Indian Tennis Association (AITA) that he is country's top-ranked player, placed number seven in the ATP rankings, so he is not ready to pair with a junior player just because Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna have refused to team up with him.
“If Mahesh or Rohan refuse to play with me for our country, then I am happy to play with the next best player that the AITA decides on.
“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,” he wrote in his letter to AITA.
The junior players referred to in the letter are Vishnu Vardhan (ranked 207th) and teenager Yuki Bhambri (306th).
“If this is the case then for the sake of Indian Tennis and to relieve the AITA in regards to the selection of the team, I have no other option but to withdraw from the Olympics.
“This decision is not taken lightly and with any rancor. We cannot be condoning or rewarding the drama enacted by Mahesh and Rohan. This would be a bad precedent for current and future sports persons (particularly tennis players) in our country,” he added.
With uncertainty continuing over the participation of three top players, the AITA decided to defer the team's announcement till Thursday, the last day to submit entries to the International Tennis Federation (ITF). AITA officials are making last ditch efforts to persuade
Bhupathi and Bopanna to abide by their decision. All three players are in London.
Paes though reiterated that he is ready to partner Bhupathi or Bopanna.
“Coming back to the men's doubles, I am comfortable to partner Mahesh or Rohan for the forthcoming Olympics.”
Both Bhupathi and Bopanna have made it clear that they will not be Paes' doubles partner for the next month's Games.
The two players insist that their combination is the best option for the country as they have prepared together for over six months.
Meanwhile, S M Krishna, the External Affairs Minister and Honorary Life President of AITA, has appealed to India's top tennis players to forget their personal disparities and play in the “interest of the nation”.
He said the players should never compromise the image of India for personal issues.
Krishna stepped in a day after Union Sports Minister Ajay Maken backed out from the ongoing tennis impasse.
Paes said “representing India at the Olympics is a cherished dream, and one in which I have agreed to participate unconditionally, with the understanding that we would aim to put our best team forward and target a medal.
“I have been ATP ranked at No. 1 in the world as a team and No.seven in the world individually, for the first sixth months of 2012. By virtue of this I have got a direct entry into the men's doubles at the Olympics with the right to choose my partner.
“I would also bring to your notice that Sania and I, by virtue of our combined ranking of No. 19 on the ATP Tour have got a direct entry in the Mixed Doubles at the Olympics.”