London Mayor Boris Johnson says UK isn’t going to blow half its defence budget, like China did, for fireworks for the London Olympics, which is about a month away. So the All India Tennis Association (AITA) has presided over some fireworks, currently underway, in the form of irreconcilable differences between its ageing stalwarts—Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi and tutelages Rohan Bopanna and Sania Mirza. Bhupathi and Paes have been crackling and sputtering at each other in the most unfortunate way. For most watchers, the preview is probably going to prove a lot more exciting than the matches they will be playing in London, if at all. There, alas, the Indian show, which specialises in sending very large delegations, officials and ministers in completely inverse proportions to medal prospects, might well fizzle out unspectacularly.
We have a situation where players want to select themselves for the Olympics and the AITA is reduced to groveling in public, as we saw when AITA president Anil Khanna upheld the specious reasoning of our tennis prima donnas in the most invertebrate way possible. Here we have a situation where Mahesh and Bopanna won’t play with the highest ranked national player Leander Paes, who has his own thoughts on composition of the team to be sent to London and changes his own plans frequently; and Sania Mirza says she is more comfortable playing with Mahesh, especially after their win at the French Open. The only phrase that is being lobbed around indiscriminately is: “Back-stabber!” It is all very strange. How have things come to such a pass?
According to the sequence of events, as reconstructed by Vece Paes, who seems to be doing all the talking for son Leander, after Lee-Hesh did badly in the French Open and Wimbledon last year, crashing out in the first round, Mahesh voiced the thought that they were getting old and probably needed fresh legs. Thereafter, on October 18, Bopanna got in touch with Leander in Shanghai and suggested that they play together at the Olympics and Davis Cup, and sent him an itinerary they could follow. Paes responded he couldn’t guarantee pairing in the matches; it was up to the selectors. Promptly, Bopanna approached Mahesh and together they gave the selectors a take-it-or-leave-it option. The committee, typically, proceeded to bend over backwards.
If we consider that Mahesh and Paes have been at each other’s throats for almost half the time they have been players in the circuit, which is now about 20 years, it is astonishing that all this while AITA has not been able to come to grips with the mutinous pair. I am not strong on tennis facts but, frankly, I don’t remember us ever getting a tennis doubles medal at the Olympics. These two have represented India in four previous Olympics and we got zilch for it. As they get older their chances of a medal does not improve. So why is the AITA putting up with this? Even if we send players ranked 500 and below, the outcome could very well be the same. At least we won’t have to put up with blackmail. I am afraid that if AITA allows this to continue, the rigmarole will go on for the next four Olympics, and Paes and Bhupathi will keep trying to get on court with a tennis racket in one hand and a walking stick in the other, in the name of the national interest.