NEW DELHI: Fuelling a controversy that refuses to die down, now Leander Paes has threatened to pull out of the 2012 London Olympics if forced to partner a junior player in the men's doubles event.
In a letter to AITA on Wednesday, the veteran declared his stand on the matter and also said he was not in favour of sending two teams to London.
"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. However, 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.
"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," Paes wrote.
"I have been ATP ranked at No. 1 in the world as a team and No. 7 in the world individually, for the first 6 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," he added.
Paes also appeared to lobby for the mixed doubles event.
"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," Paes said.
Text of Leander Paes' IATA letter
The AITA , which was supposed to make the final announcement on the men's doubles team on Wednesday, has now delayed the press conference to Thursday - the last day for the submission of names.
With Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna refusing to budge from their stand of not pairing up with Paes, the latter is likely to be forced to play with rank juniors such as Yuki Bhambri (ranked 306) or Vishnu Vardhan (ranked 207), since India's star singles player Somdev Devvarman is currently out of action with an injury.
Under duress to select the 'best possible' team in a nebulous environment, the selection committee had a marathon meeting last evening, with AITA President Anil Khanna saying, "We've taken everyone's opinions into consideration, this wasn't an easy task."
The AITA had earlier supported Paes over Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna in their acrimonious spat and said it was meaningless to send Paes to the Olympics with a junior player.
The Sports Ministry had also made it clear that that it will leave the team selection to the Tennis Association. "The Sports Ministry does not wish to be part of selection process. We had raised certain issues because of requests from certain iconic players," Sports Minister Ajay Maken said in a statement.
The Ministry had on Monday sought to bring an end to the crisis by questioning AITA on why only one team was being sent when there was a provision for India to float two outfits.
The AITA sent a letter to the Ministry detailing its logic for picking the Paes-Bhupathi combination.
"It would be meaningless to send Leander with a junior player who has not played Grand Slam. Leander being the best player must be paired with either Rohan Bopanna or Mahesh Bhupathi.
"It should be understood that two players cannot make a pact with each other to keep the number one player out and publicly suggest in media that the No.1 player should go to Olympics with No.5."
Maken also explained that his rationale for sending two teams was based on some prominent and iconic players bringing the selection issue to his notice.
Earlier, AITA secretary general Bharat Oza, in his reply to Sports Minister Ajay Maken said that "asking Leander to pair with a junior player (Yuki Bhambri or Vishu Vardhan) would be the most inappropriate decision".
Oza also said that doing so will be an insult to Leander, who enjoys great respect in the international tennis circuit.
Elaborating the five options to the sports ministry, Oza wrote: "Ask the players to follow the decision of the selection committee consisting of five Davis Cup players and 1 Fedeation Cup player. This means that Leander should play with Mahesh. This also means that there will be only one pair but in the views of the selectors the best possible pair."
The second option, in case Mahesh does not want to play with Leander, Bopanna should play with Leander as per the decision of the AITA selection committee. This again means only one pair will represent India at the Olympics.
The third option is of two Indian pairs at the Games. Leander would pair up with either Yuki Bhambri or Vishnu Vardhan and Mahesh could team up with Rohan Bopanna.
As per the fourth option, if Leander decides not to go to Olympics with a lower ranked player, only Mahesh and Bopanna will represent India.
The AITA in the final option said disciplinary actions should be taken against Mahesh and Bopanna if they don't abide by the decision of the selection committee and Leander takes court with a junior partner.
Coming down hard on Mahesh and Bopanna, Oza said: "It should be understood that two players cannot make a pact with each other to keep out the No.1 player out and thereafter publicly suggest in the media that No.1 player should go to the Olympics with the No.5 player."
After Bhupathi, Bopanna backs out
Rohan Bopanna declined AITA's offer to pair up with Leander Paes for the men's doubles event of the London Olympics.
Following Bhupathi's adamant refusal to team up with Paes, Bopanna's stand has placed the AITA in further distress after it had nominated the estranged Bhupathi-Paes as partners.
Bopanna made his disinclination to toe AITA's line this morning despite stating that it is his "dream to represent India in Olympics".
"With all respect and humility, I have been unable to accept AITA's offer and have communicated my decision to them in writing this morning," he said.
Paes however has said that he would partner anybody that AITA chooses. "I have no reaction to the recent statements made by Mahesh Bhupathi to the media. I have always maintained that I will play with whoever the selection committee and AITA choose and this continues to be my stand," he said.
Paes, though, expressed a preference for Bopanna. "It is a well-known fact that when asked by the AITA, I have expressed my preference to play with Rohan Bopanna as my partner in the Olympics 2012, based on his physical fitness and big serve. Winning a medal at the Atlanta Olympics is the most cherished memory I have in my tennis career. To play for our flag, and represent India for the 6th time at the Olympics, is my greatest honour. I will, as I always have in the past, put my best foot forward," he added.
A visibly upset Bhupathi had made clear his stand in an interview to a television channel, and also through an official email to AITA the contents of which were later made available online.
"I have already told AITA that I will not be available to play the Olympics if I am paired with Leander. I haven't even spoken to Leander since November. Rohan and I would have been the best pairing and we have repeatedly told the AITA that," he had said.
Bhupathi and Bopanna had also issued a joint statement, slamming the AITA's decision. "To not send one of the best tennis teams in the world to the Olympics - and to, instead, choose to nominate one that has had four previous unsuccessful attempts - fails to put the interests of the nation first," the statement read.
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