NEW DELHI: Indian tennis chiefs on Friday opened the door for a major row after naming a reluctant Mahesh Bhupathi to play with former doubles partner Leander Paes at the London Olympics.
The All-India Tennis Association (AITA) named the ageing duo for the Olympic men's doubles event though Bhupathi publicly stated that he wanted to pair with his current partner Rohan Bopanna.
Bhupathi and Bopanna issued a joint statement slamming the AITA'a selection, amid mounting media speculation that Bhupathi may opt out of playing with Paes in London.
“We are saddened to learn of the decision to not nominate us for participation in the doubles at the Games,” Bhupathi and Bopanna said in the statement.
The pair said they had requested the AITA consider them for selection only as a team and not as individuals to be “paired with any other players”.
“It is indeed disappointing that the AITA has chosen to disregard our request. We believe that ignoring a combination that is fully committed, dedicated and prepared is an unjustifiable compromise,” the pair said.
“This is a sad day for Indian tennis from all perspectives.
“But we are hopeful that better sense will prevail before the team nomination deadline of June 21, 2012. We will continue to make our case to all concerned over the next few days.”
AITA secretary-general Anil Khanna said the selection committee had picked the best combination.
“We thought these two (Paes and Bhupathi) make the best players to win a medal at the Olympics. That's why we have decided to field them,” said Khanna.
“They have played four Olympics together. They played for India despite differences, so we expect them to bury their differences and play for the nation at the London Olympics also.”
Paes, who turns 39 on Sunday, and Bhupathi, 38, have won three Grand Slam doubles titles – the French Open in 1999 and 2001 and Wimbledon in 1999.
The duo went their separate ways in 2002 for yet-unspecified reasons, although they continued to team up for India in the Davis Cup and multi-sports events like the Olympics.
Bhupathi played with Paes at the 2011 Australian Open doubles event after nine years before partnering Bopanna this season.
Paes, who won the men's singles bronze at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and Bhupathi have figured in the doubles at four Olympics, but failed to win a medal
Bopanna separated from his doubles partner of eight years Aisam-ul-Haq of Pakistan last year in November and paired up with Bhupathi in order to cement his place at the Olympics.