India asks Paes to pair with Vardhan in doubles
The All India Tennis Association on Thursday asked Leander Paes to accept being teamed with Vishnu Vardhan in a solution to a selection row that also includes picking Mahesh Bhupathi and Rohan Bopanna as a second doubles pair for the London Olympics.
Bhupathi and Bopanna both refused to play with Paes at the games, who threatened to pull out on Wednesday if he did not get to choose his partner because he is the highest-ranked Indian doubles player.
But AITA president Anil Khanna said on Thursday that the national body wants Paes to accept his pairing with the little-known Vardhan.
India had originally picked Paes and Bhupathi, a former top-ranked pair in the world, as the country's only men's doubles combination for the Olympics as AITA felt it had the best chance of winning a medal.
However, the national body decided to pick two teams as it did not want to antagonize any of the senior players.
"We know that it is not our best team but the best possible combination under the circumstances because we have to keep everyone going," Khanna said at a news conference. "This decision is unfair to India's No 1 player Leander, whom AITA holds in very high esteem, but we request him to accept our decision."
Khanna praised Paes for his contribution in the past two decades, during which he made five Olympic appearances and won a singles bronze medal at Atlanta in 1996.
"Undoubtedly, the most patriotic one, who has the record of most David Cup appearances for India and has served the nation for over 20 years, had been driven to the wall and had to react sharply," Khanna said.
Bhupathi and Bopanna welcomed the decision in a statement.
"The events of the last few days have been extremely challenging for all concerned, but we respect them as necessary steps in this process," they said. "In making each of our decisions we were guided by our strong convictions regarding what we believed was fair, and we are pleased that this is reflected in the outcome."
The AITA said Paes would also partner Sania Mirza in mixed doubles if India's leading women's player received a wild card entry in singles and therefore can play in mixed doubles.
"Sania won the French Open along with Mahesh (Bhupathi) this month but she told us she was comfortable playing with anyone we selected," Khanna said. "Mahesh and Sania are a very good pair but Leander-Sania are no less."
The wild cards for the Olympics are to be decided by next Thursday.