Sania Mirza accuses AITA of using her as bait

Decision to pair her with Leander Paes for Olympics reeks of ‘male chauvinism’, French Open doubles champion says

00:00 June 28, 2012

New Delhi: Sania Mirza has accused the India tennis federation of using her as “bait” to placate doubles specialist Leander Paes as discontent continues to rumble over the country’s controversial selection process for the Olympics.

The All India Tennis Association (AITA) was forced to backtrack and field two men’s doubles teams for the London Games after both Mahesh Bhupathi and regular partner Rohan Bopanna refused to play with the country’s top-ranked doubles player Paes.

Last Thursday, AITA defused the row by announcing that Paes would partner Vishnu Vardhan while the Bhupathi-Bopanna partnership would remain intact for the July 27-August 12 Games.

The federation also said Paes would partner Mirza in the mixed doubles, something perceived as a compromise for the men’s doubles world No 7 after AITA’s plan to send the strongest men’s team on paper came undone.

“...what I find disillusioning is the humiliating manner in which I was put up as a bait to try and pacify one of the disgruntled stalwarts of Indian tennis,” Mirza said in a statement late on Tuesday.

The whole episode reeked of “male chauvinism”, the 25-year-old added, feeling she had been “offered as compensation to partner one of the feuding champions to lure him into accepting to play with a men’s player he does not wish to play with”.

“This kind of blatant humiliation of Indian womanhood needs to be condemned even if it comes from the highest controlling body of tennis in our country,” added Mirza, who is based in Dubai following her marriage to former Pakistan cricket captain Shoaib Malek.

AITA president Anil Khanna was not available for comments.

Mirza, who prefers Bhupathi as her mixed doubles partner having won the French Open title together earlier in June, said she was ready to play with whoever she was paired with and it would not affect her performance in London.

“...I can assure all my countrymen that I shall never allow these difficult circumstances to come in the way of giving my very best when the Games begin,” she said.

Mirza, who has dropped to 246th in the WTA singles rankings, won her only tournament at the Hyderabad Open in 2005 and was once ranked as high as No 27 in the world.