Leander Paes gets Rio 2016 Olympics ticket as AITA pairs him with Rohan Bopanna

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It seems to have ended well. But all’s not well. For close to 30 minutes on Saturday, All India Tennis Association (AITA) president Anil Khanna painstakingly explained that the mistrust between the country’s leading tennis players wasn’t that deep, and that Rohan Bopanna and Leander Paes were India’s best bet for a medal at the Rio Olympics. The other day, even Paes said so. But Bopanna differed.

The AITA named the men’s doubles team for the Olympics in which one player feels they are not good enough to return with a medal. Bopanna was quick to release a statement in which he reluctantly accepted AITA’s decision but asserted that his and Leander’s style of play is ‘neither compatible nor complementary’.

“I have much admiration for Leander Paes and his many achievements, but unfortunately we have not been able to put together a good combination despite our best efforts and I do not believe our styles of play are either compatible or complementary,” he said.

“Considering that this is a team event where two individuals need to gel together to do well, regardless of individual achievements, it is the team and the combination that matters.”

Bopanna had chosen Saketh Myneni as his partner but AITA’s selection committee ignored his request, saying the 125th ranked player will continue to be a part of Davis Cup and Asian Games instead. Bopanna may claim compatibility issues, but the duo’s win in the Davis Cup tie against Serbia two years ago showed what they are capable of.

Down two sets and a break against Ivan Bozoljac and Nenad Zimonjic, Paes and Bopanna scripted one of India’s best comebacks in a Davis Cup match. If that win raised hopes for Rio Olympics then the defeat to Czech Republic’s Adam Pavlasek and Radek Stepanek last year was the prime example of the duo’s mistrust on court.

‘Egos, self esteem’

Paes and Bopanna have had a frosty relationship since the London Olympics, mainly due to personal issues.

Whether they manage to rise above the mistrust and issues that seem petty in front of what’s at stake for both remains to be seen. Khanna, though, remains optimistic. “Sometimes, people become so big, they are bound have their own egos, self esteem. So when you say one word wrong then a molehill is made out of a mountain. Basically it is lack of communication at times. At least for the Olympic event, there will be many who will be ensuring things will be nice between the two,” Khanna said, adding that the mistrust between India’s top tennis stars was as deep as it is made out to be.

AITA has advised both players to play together in the Davis Cup next month. India are scheduled to host South Korea from July 15-17 on the grass courts in Chandigarh. It will be the last tournament before the Olympics and the federation is keen that Paes and Bopanna be there so they get some match time together.

Paes was initially not willing to play the Davis Cup but is now expected to join the team immediately after Wimbledon. Khanna said India’s non-playing captain Anand Amritraj, coach Zeeshan Ali (also the team’s captain for the Olympics) and rest of the playing as well as back-room staff will ensure the differences between Bopanna and Paes get sorted out during that week in Chandigarh.

Advantage mixed doubles

Bopanna, however, got his way in the mixed doubles. Both, he and Sania, had written to the AITA expressing their willingness to partner each other, primarily citing their high combined rankings as the reason. Only 16 teams will be eligible for mixed doubles and the players are expecting the cut-off to be pretty high.

The AITA, though, said they were trying to explore if Sania and Paes’s combined rank of 47 (Sania’s 1 + Paes’s 46) would be enough to make the cut. But eventually, they decided to go with the two highest ranked players. Khanna also said the duo complemented each other better than Sania and Paes. “Sania and Leander both play on the right court while Rohan plays on the left court. So we felt this is the change we needed to give,” Khanna said. “Secondly, we feel both (Sania and Bopanna) of them are leaders. So personality wise also it is good. She is a left court player and will have the confidence that backhand court will be taken care of by Rohan.”

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