Friday, June 29, 2012
Veteran Leander Paes has finally agreed to take part in the London Olympics, ending days of suspense over his participation after he threatened to pull out due to a selection row that engulfed Indian tennis ahead of the mega-event.
After days of maintaining a stoic silence on his Olympic participation, Paes confirmed his participation at the post-match press conference of the ongoing Wimbledon Championships in London, a statement which is likely to put a lid on the selection controversy.
"I am looking forward to representing my country with the teams that the All India Tennis Association have selected," Paes said after winning his first-round men's doubles match with regular Czech partner Radek Stepanek.
"I am here to play sport and not politics," he asserted.
The 39-year-old had threatened to withdraw from the Olympics despite being India's number one doubles player after being paired with a lower-ranked Vishnu Vardhan for the big event against his wishes.
Paes' partners of choice -- Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna -- refused to combine with him and insisted on being sent as a team themselves.
The All India Tennis Association ultimately bowed to their insistence in a compromise formula of sending two teams, leaving Paes furious.
Paes was given the mixed doubles slot with Sania Mirza, breaking her Grand Slam winning combination with Bhupathi.
In an extraordinary attack shortly after getting her Olympic wildcard, Sania hit out at AITA, Paes as well as Bhupathi, claiming that she was used as a "bait" to pacify the disgruntled veteran.
Paes, however, chose to stay mum on Sania's outburst.
"Unfortunately, I see the games being played within games, and as much as that is very disheartening, I am looking forward to playing my sixth Olympics for my country as I have played for 22 years for the people and the flag.
"Every Olympics has some nonsense coming in with it. I know how much hard work goes into what I do. (Either) people choose to respect it, which I'm very lucky that India does, (or) people choose to disrespect. That's their problem, not mine," Paes added.
The world number seven doubles player said he had no complaints about being paired with Vardhan, who is ranked 206 in the ATP list.
The seven-time Grand Slam winner in men's doubles is a singles bronze medal winner from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
Paes, set to make a record sixth Olympic appearance, said he would look to help Vardhan, who would be making his Games debut in London.
"I don't even know if he has grass-court shoes. So it's a bit of a tough one. But he's a really good kid, I'm happy to play with him.
"Whatever the obstacles are, which I see are going to be many -- he's never been to Wimbledon before -- whatever I can do as an experienced professional athlete to help my partners out, I do," he said.
The controversy broke out when AITA initially paired Paes and Bhupathi as the only men's doubles entry for the Olympics. Bhupathi refused to play with Paes, citing his commitment to Bopanna.
When approached by AITA, Bopanna also rejected the idea, leaving Paes cornered.
It was then that AITA came out with a compromise formula which was lambasted by Sania who said it reeked of male chauvinism and was humiliating to Indian womanhood.
Despite Paes' confirmation, Bhupathi might still trigger a controversy as he has expressed his desire to partner Sania in mixed doubles given their recent success -- most significant being the French Open title just a few weeks back.
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