New Delhi National tennis selector Rohit Rajpal has been asked by the All India Tennis Association (AITA) to meet Leander Paes and persuade him to accept the sending of two men’s doubles teams to the London Olympics “in the national interest”.
Rajpal was due to fly to London anyway, and when AITA president Anil Khanna came to know of his trip, he asked if he could meet and explain to Paes the sequence of events that led to the association decision.
Rajpal said he and Paes were contemporaries from their junior days and were good friends.
“Paes and I played around the same time and we have a good equation. If I can be of some help in clearing the air, I shall certainly do so — more as a long-standing friend than as a selector,” Rajpal said.
Rajpal is expected to reassure Paes about his mixed-doubles pairing with Sania Mirza.
Paes was clearly unhappy with the arrangement arrived at after a series of meetings involving, among others, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna, who is the honorary life president of the AITA, and Sports Minister Ajay Maken. Sources say Paes has not yet made up his mind whether to play.
Paes said on Wednesday that he would withdraw from the London Games if forced to compete with a lower ranked player, in this case Vishnu Vardhan, while allowing Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna to team up.
The AITA president, while announcing Thursday that two teams would be entered, said he was sure Paes would see reason.
Khanna suggested Paes should be happy to be partnering Mirza in the mixed doubles as it gives him the chance of winning a medal to add to the singles bronze he won at the 1996 Atlanta Games.
Khanna felt that with their combined ranking of 19, Paes and Mirza had a good chance of going all the way.
However, it is not clear what Mirza’s stance on the matter is. She has previously said her preferred choice was Bhupathi but that she was fine playing with Paes if paired with him.
Khanna made no secret of his unhappiness at the situation, saying in a statement that the decision was unfair to Paes.
“The AITA agrees that this decision is unfair to India’s No 1 and world No 7 player Leander Paes,” the statement said.
“AITA holds Leander in very high esteem and appeals to him to accept this decision in the best interest of the nation.
“We are confident that Leander will not disappoint us as he has done yeoman service to the nation over the last 25 years.”
For their part, Bopanna and Bhupathi said they were delighted and excited at the prospect of playing together.