Is Paes coming to Asian Games? Zeeshan Ali has no clue

Three days before the start of the event, Ali — the captain and coach of the men’s team — says he has no clarity on Leander Paes’ arrival.

Leander Paes in action with Purav Raja earlier this year at the Tata Open.   -  R. RAGU

The Indian tennis contingent arrived here on Thursday for the Asian Games but the biggest name in the squad, Leander Paes, was conspicuous by his absence.

Zeeshan Ali, the captain and coach of the men’s team, has no clue about Paes’ arrival three days before the start of the competition on Sunday.

“I have no idea of his arrival. Only Paes can tell you when he is coming. The last time I spoke to him he said he would play in Cincinnati and then come to Palembang. But he is not playing there also,” said Ali.

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There is still uncertainty over whom the 18-time Grand Slam champion will partner in the doubles, with Rohan Bopanna and Divij Sharan expected to play together. Paes, who last played at the Asian Games in 2006, could either partner an inexperienced Sumit Nagal or singles specialist Ramkumar Ramanathan.

The 45-year-old is in the twilight of his career and would like to end his Asian Games outing on a high. He already has five gold medals to his name in the event, starting from the Hiroshima edition in 1994.

While there is no information on Paes’ arrival, Bopanna’s recovery from a shoulder injury is good news for the Indian camp. The big-serving Indian arrived with Sharan and the women’s squad comprising debutants Ankita Raina and Karman Kaur Thandi, besides doubles specialist Prarthana Thombare, who won a bronze alongside Sania Mirza in Incheon four years ago.

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Asked about his fitness and lack of match practice since Wimbledon, Bopanna said: “It is not an issue at all. It won’t be the first time I will be coming back from an injury. I would not have been here if I wasn’t hundred percent fit.”

Bopanna too last played at the Games more than a decade ago and is looking forward to the next one week.

“I would have played earlier also but the 10-day schedule did not allow me to do that. Now it is a week-long thing which means I only miss one tournament and not two,” said the 38-year-old.

India’s singles players, Ramanathan and Prajnesh Gunneswaran, will be joining the team on Friday and so will Nagal.

“All of the women’s team will be here too by Friday,” added Ali.

A bagful of medals are expected from tennis despite the absence of top-ranked singles player Yuki Bhambri, who has opted to play in the US Open.

The men’s singles draw is especially open with Japan’s Kei Nishikori and South Korea’s Hyeon Chung not taking part. Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin is the sole top-100 player in the men’s draw.

However, it will be a tough ask for Raina and Thandi in the women’s singles with China’s defending champion Qiang Wang and Shuai Zhang competing in the quadrennial event.

India had won five medals in 2014 including a gold, silver and three bronze.