Paes keen to avoid 2012 selection mess

Doubles specialist Leander Paes on Tuesday said he does not want a repeat of the 2012 fiasco when Rohan Bopanna refused to partner him. Bopanna has gained a direct participation ticket to Rio Olympics, and has the luxury of choosing his partner.

The team of Leander Paes (right) and Rohan Bopanna is the best one for Rio, believes Paes.   -  R. V. Moorthy

With the All India Tennis Association (AITA) selection committee set to announce the squad for Rio Olympics on June 11, veteran doubles specialist Leander Paes on Tuesday said he does not want a repeat of the 2012 fiasco when Rohan Bopanna refused to partner him.

Paes, who recently completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open mixed doubles with Swiss great Martina Hingis, however said he had complete faith on AITA president Anil Khanna and the selectors. “I am fully confident that the AITA will send the best team in doubles for Rio. I have complete faith on the selection committee particularly Anil Khanna that they will select the best medal prospects,” Paes said at a press conference here.

“Selection is always done on merit, and I am sure it will be done again this time too,” he added.

It will be Paes’ record-setting seventh appearance at the mega event for his country. But his dream has seen a potential roadblock after falling down the men’s doubles rankings in recent times. He moved up five spots to 46 in the latest men’s rankings but that wasn’t enough to get a direct qualification berth for Rio.

Bopanna grabbed that berth after gaining a place in the top 10 rankings and has the luxury of choosing his partner from among Paes, Purav Raja (103), Divij Sharan (114), Saketh Myneni (125), Jeevan Nedunchezhiyan (134) and Mahesh Bhupathi (164) for the Rio Games.

But Paes felt that his partnership with Bopanna will be India’s best bet for a medal at Rio. “Without a shadow of doubt, Rohan and me are the best team for a medal at Rio. Rohan and myself had some conversation but it all depends on the rankings. He has been playing well for quite sometime and there is no doubt about that,” he said.

“I definitely do not want a repeat of what happened four years ago,” he added.

Bopanna has a history of bitter moments with Paes after refusing to partner him during the London 2012 Games. Paes’ relationship with Bopanna and Bhupathi has been a long-standing issue for Indian tennis.

Bitterness 'long gone and over'

India’s doubles star Bopanna, however, says the bitterness that had developed between him and Paes in the build-up to the 2012 London Games is “long gone and over” and he was not averse to playing with the Kolkatan again for the sake of the country. Paes, however, has failed to keep the momentum of mixed doubles in men’s doubles as he lost in the quarter-finals at Roland Garros.

The right-hander, however, remains positive in his approach and said his first-ever French Open mixed doubles win was a career highlight and showed he has still got it. “This French Open trophy is very special, we have shown the world that Indians can be world beaters. It feels special...such a humbling feeling to be one out of the only three men in the history of the sport to have more Grand Slams,” he said.

The 42-year-old once again reiterated that age is just a number for him as he revealed some of his fitness secrets. “The training methods evolve continuously. For me age is just a number. With growing age, the strength and muscle mass decreases a bit but the reflexes remain the same. Keeping that in mind, I keep my fitness regime six days a week,” he said.

His advancing age has forced him to face uncomfortable questions regarding his future and willingness to retire, but Paes remained coy to make a call, playing the guessing game when asked again. “One day curtains gonna come down, maybe at Rio, maybe after another Grand Slam, may be after another 2-3 years...the day I feel am done,” he said.

Paes also recalled his time spent with late boxing legend Muhammed Ali, calling him one of his idols.

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