Bopanna ensures doubles, mixed doubles entry for Rio

With Leander Paes, gunning for his seventh Olympics, having slipped to No. 46 in the world, it was important for Bopanna to be in the top-10 on the cut-off date, and thus assure India of a men’s doubles entry.

With Yuki and Saketh recovering from injuries and lacking the exposure at the highest level, it will be a practical choice that Rohan Bopanna would play with the 42-year-old Paes.   -  R.V. Moorthy

Rohan Bopanna cleared a lot of suspense with regard to India’s tennis entries for Rio Olympics, by reaching No.10 in doubles rank, but opted to stay quiet till the selectors announce the Indian squad on June 11.

With Leander Paes, gunning for his seventh Olympics, having slipped to No. 46 in the world, it was important for Bopanna to be in the top-10 on the cut-off date, and thus assure India of a men’s doubles entry.

Even though the 36-year-old Bopanna may have the choice of partners, including Paes, Purav Raja (103), Divij Sharan (114), Saketh Myneni (125), Jeeevan Nedunchezhiyan (134), Mahesh Bhupathi (164) and Yuki Bhambri (147 singles), it is clear that there will not be any selection drama this time.

With Yuki and Saketh recovering from injuries and lacking the exposure at the highest level, it will be a practical choice that Bopanna would play with the 42-year-old Paes, even though he may be holding his cards close to his chest at the moment.

Equally, it is clear that World No.1 Sania Mirza would play with Bopanna as that would be the only team that stands a chance of getting into the small mixed doubles draw of 16 for the Olympics.

The most important factor is that the ranking of players as of June 6 would be considered for entry into the mixed doubles draw.

Unlike earlier times, there are no wild card entries for tennis this time in the Olympics. Moreover, the four ITF places, apart from 12 direct acceptances in mixed doubles, would only be based on two factors — host country representation and regional representation. If there are vacancies, after meeting these requirements, ‘’these will be allocated to the next best ranked team based on the international singles and doubles rankings of 6 June 2016, not already qualified’’, spells the ITF qualification system for Olympics.

So, even if she wants, Sania Mirza may not be able to play with Leander Paes in the Rio Olympics.

It may be recalled that Sania and Paes, partnering for the first time in the Busan Asian Games, won the bronze in 2002. They had teased the top seeds and eventual gold medallists, Victoria Azarenka and Max Mirnyi of Belarus, on grass in Wimbledon in the quarterfinals of mixed doubles in the London Olympics, before going down 5-7, 6-7(5). They were ranked 18 and 5 respectively at that time.

Ironically, it may be the rule of the thumb for mixed doubles selection in Indian tennis that whoever wins the French Open before the Olympics, does not get to play with Sania at the Olympics!

Lest we forget, Sania and Mahesh Bhupathi had won the French Open mixed doubles in 2012. The only point of interest for the selectors could be the doubles partner for Sania in women’s event. Having won the Asian Games bronze with Prarthana Thombare, it will be a surprise if Sania sees beyond the second best doubles ranked player in the country, at 209. Sania has also been guiding Thombare at her academy in Hyderabad this season.

However, there is no doubt that the country’s best ranked singles player, the 22-year-old Ankita Raina, who has unfortunately slipped to 306 from a career-best 222, would be discussed as a possible choice by the selectors, considering that she has a doubles rank of 289, not far from Prarthana.

For, the selectors may not have anything else to discuss or decide!

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